Monday, 27 July 2009

The Book Group met on the 23rd of July to discuss Siri Hustvedt's What I Loved. This was Laura's choice, which she picked up on her travels a couple of years ago and really enjoyed.
She felt it was a good comment on social relationships. Janet found it a book of two halves and felt that the relationships lacked raw emotion. She also found some of the descriptive art passages tedious, but enjoyed the intensity of the book's latter half, as did Margaret.
Andy found himself liking certain parts of the book more than others, preferring certain characters to others.
June was fascinated by the lives of the artists referred to in the book, and identified with the book's historical perspective. Morag also enjoyed the descriptive passages on art.
Laura felt that the female characters in the book were cold and that the reader could identify more with feelings of the male characters, and June agreed, although she liked Violet.
Andy pointed out how the characters ultimately end up on their own, and Janet saw the book as a study of human imperfection. Kathleen was the only member who had not read the book, due to a delay with her order, but following the discussion she said that she was looking forward to reading it.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Modern viking saga fascinates book group

In June we all read The Sea Road by Margaret Elphinstone - very timely as this year's midummer Johnsmas Foy celebrations in Shetland had a viking theme. This is a modern viking saga - the story of Gudrid, the most travelled woman of the viking world - who went from Iceland to Greenland to North America and had somehow got herself to Rome near journey's end, where she told her life story to a young scribe.

This was based on several of the old viking sagas, and told in saga style (some of our group had got round to reading the originals). The descriptions of the land and the arduous climate rang true and the astonishingly dangerous sea journeys were thrilling. Some Shetlanders still claim we are a hardy Viking Race, but having to walk to the shops for a pint of milk is too much for most of us nowadays.

Margaret Elphinstone used to stay in Shetland and in fact Morag remembers working with her in the library. They used to discuss the great novels they were writing. We still await Morag's (with every faith it will come) but Margaret has written a great book here which the whole group enjoyed. Apparently her others are good as well.

Not the Orkney Way...

Yes, The Stornoway Way is very real in it's depiction of the downward spiral of alcohol. Here in Shetland we're also unable to handle our drink, or our drugs for that matter. I await the great modern Shetland novel that tackles this dark side of our affluent society.

Kevin MacNeil is a great chap - made himself very popular in the year he stayed in Shetland, and I'm sure we'll see some good results from the creative writing classes he conducted.

But on the subject of books depicting the seamy underside of island life, were you aware of the scandal over this Orkney book?
Chucking It All: How Downshifting To A Windswept Scottish Island Did Absolutely Nothing to Improve My Life has now been pulped by the publisher after an 'outcry'. Shame on Alistair Carmichael MP - a Lib Dem - for being instrumental in getting a book banned. OK, edit for any actual libels...but what are those folk scared of? We in Shetland are all dying to read it -as is most of Orkney, I suspect. Anyone got a proof copy?

Thursday, 9 July 2009

The Stornoway Way by Kevin MacNeil

I was in the library recently and this jumped out from the shelves - maybe it was because Kevin is on the list of authors for Wordplay. I remember it being one of a pair of books we read nearly two years ago on the subject of teenage island life. I enjoyed Venus as a Boy, but didn't get time to read The Stornoway Way.
Illuminating and entertaining in equal parts - it's not a book to read stone cold sober. The main thrust was how alcohol greases the wheels of social gatherings, blunts the harshness of humdrum life and lessens the cloying effect of net-twitching in a small community still heavily influenced by the church. Booze starts off as a sticking plaster, then becomes a crutch and finally a lethal injection. There's nothing, literally and metaphorically, at the bottom of a bottle.
It also reminded me of The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson - all three using the ruse that they were written by someone "else" with the author a mere conduit... A good pretense when the subject matter is tricky and/or the locale is small such as the Western Isles or Orkney.