- Tapa dura: 400 páginas
- Editor: North Point Press (1 de junio de 2002)
- Idioma: Inglés
- ISBN-10: 0865476365
- ISBN-13: 978-0865476363
Detalles del producto
Such is the enthusiasm for the Shiant Isles exhibited by the wife of Adam Nicolson, author of SEA ROOM. Adam is owner of these roughly six hundred acres distributed over three wave and wind ravaged islands in the Minch, that stretch of ocean lying between the Scottish island of Skye and the Outer Hebrides. Adam had inherited them from his father, who purchased them in 1937.
The author does indeed examine every fact and detail that can be known or surmised about this edge on civilization's margin: the art of getting there by small boat, the migratory bird life, its human history as revealed by archeology and public records, its geology, its successive native industries over the centuries (farming, fishing, kelping, sheepherding), and its weather. Occasionally, there's unintended humor, as when he describes the labors involved in transferring some cattle off the island by coastal steamer:
"The men waited below (the steamer) in the dinghy as the poor beast was lifted by its horns high into the air, bellowing at the indignity and with fear. Just as the animal was high above the gunwale, the men in the dinghy guiding it in by the tail, the bullock emptied the entire contents of its four stomachs over the men below. That was the last time any cattle were seen on the Shiants." Or, when he describes the equally valiant efforts of the rams (tups) sent to the islands to impregnate the resident ewes:
"The tups are put on in November, about eight or nine of them for the three hundred-odd ewes, and are taken off in February, knackered (exhausted)." Yes, well, that's the plight of us males everywhere regardless of species. It's a tough and thankless but necessary job.
Most of SEA ROOM is a sober narrative about ordinary life on, and the ecosystem of, the Shiants - ordinary with a capital "O". After all, through the centuries no more than perhaps thirty people have called the islands home at any one time. It was never the site of a great city, or the center of an empire, or the scene of heroic accomplishment beyond just making a life in a remote and inhospitable place. Indeed, the Shiants have lacked permanent human residents for the past hundred years. Thus, while Nicolson's magnificent prose makes the story reasonably interesting, it wasn't enough to earn more than four stars in my opinion ... that is, until the concluding chapter. It's because of these last pages, a heartfelt and poignant manifesto of the author's great and consuming love for this far-flung spot, a legacy for his son Tom, that I finally awarded five stars for the whole.
"I was left alone in the silence, with the pale sun on my face, and, as the dogs nosed for nothing in the grasses, I started to fall asleep there to the long, asthmatic rhythm of the surf. The islands embraced and enveloped me. Twenty yards to my left the Viking was asleep in his grave ..."
The book is roughly structured around a year in the life of the Shiants, but Nicolson doesn't let this stop him from ranging wherever his desire leads; which means that while it isn't exactly a page-turner when looked at as a whole, each section is entirely coherent and quite compelling, and the overall structure means they flow into one another reasonably enough. The biggest portion of the book is given over to archaeology, shading into speculative (in the good sense, as practiced by Farley Mowat) history. Nicolson a exhibits strong desire to recreate for his readers the lives of his islands' earlier inhabitants, which also leads him to examine more recent history. Here and there he leans towards overly romanticizing the lives of the islanders, but on the whole he does a wonderful job of conveying the realities of their existence: most strikingly in his account of Campbell family, who lived on the Shiants in the mid-19th century. He also throws in a fair amount of what might be called tangential information--his description of shepherding on the islands and his scale of the edibility of birds eggs were particularly good--which together combines to create a fair picture of the islands; or, at least, the islands as he sees them.
Obviously, the islands themselves are the common theme holding the book together. But also present throughout the whole account, from a derogative cartoon about him that Nicolson includes in the first chapter to his closing ruminations about passing the islands on to his son, is the question of what it means to own the islands, and indeed to own land in general. Nicolson approaches the question on two levels: on the first, he quotes a drunken pub patron who once told him that his shepherd tenants are the Shiants' real owners, and on the second he includes a letter from Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which tried to obtain the islands as a public trust in the '70s. The last chapter of the book includes Nicolson's account of an ongoing discussion about what right he has to the islands and whether they ought to be public property. Nicolson is far from a stereotypical grasping absentee landlord, and in fact he rather agrees with his drunken accuser. He's not convinced, though, that public ownership would be any better for the islands: he feels that 'protecting' them would actually end up attracting more visitors, while at the same time tying management of the islands with layers of needless complication.
And to his credit, Nicolson ends the book with an actual invitation to visit the islands: if you email him, he writes, he'll give you the keys to the cottage. What public trust could provide that? How the scheme will work under his son, who gets the islands in 2005, and under any potential increased pressure from visitors, is open to question; but Nicolson does a good job explaining his position, and the question of ownership provides a tension and center to the book that would otherwise be lacking.<P...