Orkney By Amy Sackville – A Review

Publisher: Granta

Publication Date: 6th February 2014

Orkney by Amy Sackville was one of my subscription book choices from Mr B’s Emporium. They know I enjoy books that are a little dark and strange and this one is no exception.

At 253 pages it’s not a huge read but it’s super atmospheric and I found myself fully immersed.

A literature professor and his new wife, one of his ex pupils, are taking their honeymoon on a remote island in Orkney at the young wife’s request. Desperate to please her, the professor agrees, eschewing all other more exotic places with more clement climes.

The professor has taken a sabatical from his university work to write a book based on myths and fairytales and hopes to use some of his time on Orkney to continue with his research and writing. However he becomes somewhat obsessed and entranced by his new wife. A woman he considers himself extremely lucky to have married. The 40 year age gap (he is 60 she is 20…..you can do subtraction I’m sure!) plays on his mind and he is very alert and sensitive to people’s reactions to the two of them together, particularly within a small island community.

The young (nameless) woman spends her days walking along the coastline, or quite often just standing motionless watching the sea. The professor, who should be working, spends his time watching her from the window of their rented cottage. Desperate to keep his eyes on her, trying so hard to figure her out, to get into her mind and her thoughts. He is a man who wants to keep hold of this enigmatic woman who he feels is the pinnacle of his life.

She spends her nights plagued by nightmares all surrounding the sea and her apparent fear or awe of it. She cannot swim and some of her trepidation around the sea and it’s force and power seems to dominate her dreams. The professor soothes her through these frightening nightmares which seem so visceral and urgent in the dead of night but which she recounts in the morning with an almost casual air of storytelling before venturing back outside to the beach and the ocean.

The woman likes to tell the professor myths and fairytales about people of the sea, selkies, mermaids, sea-princesses. The professor, listens, rapt and enchanted by her. But just how much of a pull does the sea have and how much power can the ocean wield over their relationship?..

This book is so steeped in atmosphere. The descriptions not only of the island of Orkney, its remoteness, it’s landscape, but also the depictions of the coast and the sea. There is a dampness that hangs in the air which you can almost feel permeating your bones.

This book is most definitely a character study and not so much plot based. As the story is told from the perspective of the Professor we are effectively inside his head so we can share in his love and adoration of this enigmatic almost ethereal woman. We are trying to figure her out as a reader just as much as the professor is as her husband.

The woman seems to veer from being quite childlike, fun loving and playful to being introverted, almost taciturn and secretive. She is most assuredly an interesting character. The little nuanced touches of her demeanour and character lending even more of a fascination for me. Her apparent ability to shrug off the cold, her slightly webbed fingers and toes….

She and me. I and she. Safe within, the dark sea outside, and the poor envious sailors who long for home, who cannot have her; the heat of the skin of her chest, her shoulders, as I slid from them shawl and sweater; the small of her back quite cool; the soles of her feet, folded under her, frozen. I clasped my hands around about them; the only part of her skin that has toughened, my barefoot urchin. As I warmed my hands before the grate, the better to administer to her chilled extremeties, she unfolded herself and splayed her toes before the fire – yes, they are also just a little webbed, so that each tiny membrane glowed orange, like a frogs foot in the firelight.

Orkney is just the right kind of strange that I love. If you’re into the selkie myths as I am, or fairytales linked to the sea, this would be a book I would wholeheartedly recommend.

A great pick from the Mr B’s staff!

See you soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

2 thoughts on “Orkney By Amy Sackville – A Review

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