kittiwake: (stormclouds)
'If it's not me,' he said eventually, 'it'll be my successor. The files, the paperwork, the notes will all be left meticulous. Marked up, indexed, cross indexed. And you, Mr Engleby, are going into the file marked "Unhappy".'
'Tu quoque,' I said.
'You're going in my unhappy file, too.';

Starting during his second year at Cambridge, this is the life story of Mike Engleby. He is a working class boy who gets a scholarship to a minor public school where his life is made hell but he does well academically, and by the time he reaches university he is curiously uninvolved in real life, sitting on the edge looking in, with his only connections seeming to be with his little sister Julie and his university friend Stelling. When a student he has admired from afar goes missing, he is upset, but he graduates, moves to London and goes on to become a successful Fleet Street journalist.

The whole book is supposed to be Engleby's journal, but it doesn't read like a journal and I was surprised when the psychiatrist mentioned how Engleby's journal had helped him to understand him. I would have been more convinced by the journal if the book said that he had written it while in the special hospital, looking back on his life.

I had a problem believing in Jennifer's diary and letters to her parents. They seems excessively long for a student who had plenty of work, friends and societies to keep her busy. If it wasn't for the lack of mentions of Engleby I would have thought he had made them up himself.

Nottingham Round the World Reading Challenge - UNITED KINGDOM / ENGLAND / CAMBRIDGE
kittiwake: (Iceland)
Then Bolli said, 'I understand clearly what you are telling me about the qualities of your husbands; but you have not told me which man you loved the most. There's no need to conceal it any longer now.'
'You are pressing me very hard, my son, said Gudrun. 'But if I must tell someone, then I would rather it were you.'
Bolli begged her to do so.
Then Gudrun said, 'I was worst to the one I loved the most,'

The saying 'hell hath no fury like a woman scorned' certainly applies to Gudrun Osvifur's-daughter, whose third husband Bolli was the foster-brother of Kjartan, the man she really loved. She manoeuvred her husband and brothers into killing Kjartan, and when Kjratan's brothers killed Bolli in revenge, she was instrumental in keeping the feud going.

The saga starts several generations earlier, in order to explain the family relationships between Gudrun, her four husbands and the other two men who wished to marry her, who are all descended from Ketil Flatnose. Although it is thought that a lot of the characters were real people, the author of Laxdaela Saga is believed to have changed the order and timescale of events in order to make a better story.

Nottingham Round the World Reading Challenge - ICELAND
kittiwake: (travel)
People still get the hiccups, incidentally. They still have no control over whether they do it or not. I often hear them hiccupping, involuntarily closing their glottises and inhaling spasmodically, as they lie on the broad white beaches or paddle around the blue lagoons. If anything, people hiccup more now than they did a million years ago. This has less to do with evolution, I think, than with the fact that so many of them gulp down raw fish without chewing them up sufficiently.


And people still laugh about as much as they ever did, despite their shrunken brains. If a bunch of them are lying around on a beach, and one of them farts, everybody else laughs and laughs, just as people would have done a million years ago.

The Nature Cruise of the Century is the over-hyped maiden voyage of a new cruse ship to the Galapagos Islands, which has attracted celebrities from Jackie Onassis to Mick Jagger, but a world economic and political crisis means that only six passengers have made it to the port of Guayaquil in Ecuador and they expect the cruise to be cancelled at any moment.

There was still plenty of food and fuel and so on for all the human beings on the planet, as numerous as they had become, but millions upon millions of them were starting to starve to death now. The healthiest of them could go without food for only about forty days, and then death would come.
And this famine was as purely a product of oversize brains as Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
It was all in people's heads. People had simply changed their opinions of paper wealth, but, for all practical purposes, the planet might as well have been knocked out of orbit by a meteor the size of Luxembourg.

When a small group of people end up marooned on an uninhabited island in the north of the Galapagos, they expect to be rescued, but humanity is in melt-down, and the islanders end up as the sole fertile representatives of the human race.

Over the next million years, they evolve into creatures rather like seals and their brains shrink to allow their heads to be more stream-lined. According to Leon Trout, the ghost of a ship worker killed during the construction of the cruise ship, all mankind's problems were caused by our big brain. Apparently our descendants are much happier, lying round on the beach, with plenty of fish to eat and sharks to keep their numbers down so the population doesn't outgrow the Galapagos Islands (since the bacteria that causes human infertility is still extant everywhere else).

Nottingham Round the World Reading Challenge - ECUADOR / GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
kittiwake: (stormclouds)
He seized me from behind. There was a strange smell on his hands, perhaps some sort of special oil that professional stranglers use.

When travel-writer Charles Prentice is summoned to Spain after his brother Frank is arrested, he assumes that he has been fitted up by the Spanish police, but on arrival he is stunned to discover to find that Frank has been charged with murdering five people, and has pleaded guilty. Frank is the manager of a sports club in Estrella de Mar, a community of northern European ex-pats near Marbella and Charles decides to stay there and try to find out what really happened, since no-one, not even the Spanish police, seems to believe he is guilty.

Charles Prentice is not so much an unreliable narrator, as an unobservant, easily led and obtuse narrator. He veers from wildly over-imaginative (see above) to willfully blind:

'I've watched him at work, Paula. He genuinely wants to help everyone. He's stumbled on this strange way of getting people to make the most of themselves. It's touching to see such simple faith. He's really some kind of saint.'
'He's a psychotic.'
'Not fair. He gets carried away sometimes, but there's no viciousness in the man.'
'Pure psycho.' She turned her back on the mirror and stared critically at me. 'You can't see it.'

I first read this book when it came out in paperback and I think I preferred it then, when the dark underbelly of Estrella de Mar came as a surprise, as it was the first of J.G. Ballard's books on that theme that I had read.

Nottingham Round the World Reading Challenge
kittiwake: (Default)
"So what's he left them? Money?"
"This is the curious part." Hobbs paused. "Any two moveable items from my house'" he read, "whether they be of value or junk, large or small, old or new, family heirlooms or sentimental gifts. Two items of their choosing and their choosing alone, from a free selection of all the chattels and moveable in my home, without exception, at the time of my death."

Peter Luther is a Welsh solicitor and his books are published by a small Welsh publisher. I was attracted to his first novel, "Dark Covenant", by the unusual cover design, which used subtle colours and a mat finish and really stood out in the murder mystery section at Waterstones. It was a spooky and original mystery/horror, but not too scary to read in bed, and the follow-up is an equally spooky tale set in Pembrokeshire.

The Divine Sentiment, founded as a phrenological society in Victorian times, is now a charity specialising in bereavement counselling. But why are they targetting couples in their 60s, and why do they ask their clients to add such curious bequests to their wills?

Nottingham Round the World Reading Challenge - UNITED KINGDOM / WALES / TENBY
kittiwake: (travel)
The sun went down behind the peaks and it became bitterly cold. the shadows in the ravines grew wider and wider, crept further and further up. The summits of the Korakorum glowed like gold, turned violet and then ice-green. Blasts of cold, black night came up at me with every step.
It was no longer any use looking for horse droppings or splodges of blood. It was only skeletons that could show the way.
Most people don't consider that there's anything nice about a skeleton, and you would hardly expect one to be an edifying sight for a lone, hungry and dog-tired poor wretch stumbling along in the semi-darkness among the boulders in Mintaka Pass, but whenever I saw a white gleaming structure of bones in all that blackness, it caused no chill of apprehension, but a thrill of joy; 'Keep going, Willie! You're on the right track.'
whether the skeleton was of man or beast was all one to me, as long as there were bones . . .

When Wilfred and his friend Andrew leave occupied Oslo for Sweden it is the start of a very long journey. Since they are low on the list to be sent to the RNAF training camp in Little Norway in Toronto, five of the young men decide to make their own way to Canada, across Asia, aiming to get a lift from a Norwegian ship from either India or Hong Kong. It takes much longer than envisaged as both the Russian and Chinese authorities keep delaying them while checking their paperwork. Since most of the people he meets have never heard of Norway, and assume he must be either German or English, he usually ends up saying that he is English, but finds that threatening Chinese officials with the Russian consul, usually does the trick. There are other problems too, as one of them gets pneumonia and has to be taken off to hospital, and later Wilfred is separated form the others when he breaks his back in an accident. After spending three months in hospital in Sinkiang (Chinese Turkestan), he continues to Kashgar, where the British consul arranges for him to be met at the Indian border.

Eventually Wilfred makes it to Bombay, from where he catches a Norwegian ship to New York via Cape Town, and eventually makes it to Toronto, while his friends also made it to Bombay but caught a ship from there to London. I'd say that going from Norway, via Sweden, Finland, USSR (Russia & Kazakstan), China (Sinkiang is in the far north-west), India and South Africa, to London or New York is going a very long way round!

This is the story of a great adventure, undertaken by a man who was a 19-year-old apprentice in Oslo when it started.

PS: An oread is a mountain nymph (in case you, like me, wonder what he is on about near the end).

Nottingham Round the World Reading Challenge - CHINA / SINKIANG
kittiwake: (Default)
Madonna invited us to a retro theme party called Return to Avenue Joffre on the top floor of the high-rise at the corner of Huaihai and Yandang Roads. Avenue Joffre in the 1930s, Huaihai Road today, has long symbolised Shanghai's old dreams. In today's fin-de-siècle, post-colonial mindset, this boulevard - and the bygone era of the revealing traditional dress, the qipao, calendar-girl posters, rickshaws and jazz bands - is fashionable again, like a bow knotted over Shanghai's nostalgic heart.

Last year, I read "Red Mandarin Dress" by Qiu Xiaolong, a detective story set in Shanghai in the 1980s, at a time when the whole city seemed to be one vast building building project as China underwent massive social and political changes. "Shanghai Baby" is set in the late 1990s and things couldn't be more different. There are only three or four places in the whole book where I noticed someone saying or doing something that reminded me that they were living in a communist country. Coco and her friends can choose their own careers and change their jobs when they want (unlike the reluctant policeman in "Red Mandarin Dress", who would rather have been a poet), can travel abroad freely, have Western friends and lovers and are most definitely part of a consumer society. Of course China hasn't changed completely, and "Shanghai Baby" was banned in China for its decadent subject matter and being corrupted by Western values.

I found the book interesting from that point of view and I liked the apt quotations that the author had chosen for each chapter, but I didn't really like Coco or care about her tangled love life.

Nottingham Round the World Reading Challenge
kittiwake: (mythology)
Insanely, as if by the power of hypnosis, I found myself asking whether, since I'd shown him mine, he'd show me his.
He blushed like a ripe peach. 'You don't want to see it really,' he said.
'Well, can you recite any? Truly, I'd love to hear some.'
This from Ted Wallace, mind you, who'd been known to hurl himself into moving traffic at the prospect of verse recitation.
The poem was short, which was good. The poem was sweet, which was good. The poem had form, which was good. The poem was bad, which was bad. The poem was called 'The Green Man', which was unpardonable.

Another re-read. Everyone sees Ted Wallace as a grumpy old man, but underneath it all he has a kind heart, spending time with his godson David (who wrote the poem mentioned above) and going to the East of England show with David's brother Simon, when he couldn't think of anything he'd like less than trudging round a boiling hot field looking at pigs and tractors. He is also the only one to see the truth about what is happening at Swafford Hall, while everyone else succumbs to wishful thinking and sees what they want to see.

Nottingham Round the World Reading Challenge - UNITED KINGDOM / ENGLAND / NORFOLK
kittiwake: (stormclouds)
They were all very tired, added to which Rönn had a cold. Many of the men in uniform on patrol duty, wither on foot or in radio cars, were also working overtime and were also worn out. Some of the men were scared and Rönn was certainly not the only one with a cold.
And in Stockholm and its suburbs by this time there were over a million frightened people.
The hunt was entering its seventh abortive day.

It's summer in Stockholm and the police are busy hunting a brutal mugger and a child killer.

This is another one of the series that I think I borrowed from the library as a teenager. There were at least two scenes that rang a bell; Kollberg being hit over the head by a vigilante and what Kvant and Kristiansson saw in the bushes.

Nottingham Round the World Reading Challenge
kittiwake: (Isis)
Night flying over charted country by aid of instruments and radio guidance can still be a lonely business, but to fly in unbroken darkness without even the cold companionship of a pair of ear-phones or the knowledge that somewhere ahead are lights and life and a well-marked airport is more than lonely. It is at times unreal to the point where the existence of other people seems not even a reasonable probability. The hills, the forests, the rocks, and the plains are one with the darkness, and the darkness is infinite. The earth is no more your planet than a distant star - if a star is shining; the plane is your planet and you are its sole inhabitant.

I like the fact that it is a memoir rather than a chronological autobiography. One story leads into another, with digressions thrown in as they occur to her, such as the time a leopard abducted her dog from the bottom of her bed. I also rather like the fact that Beryl Markham uses Swahili (presumably) words without explanation, and writes some passages in the present tense, as it seems to make it more immediate.

She never mentions her mother (who went back to England shortly after the family moved to Kenya) once, and she does seem rather unlucky when it comes to being being attacked by animals!

Nottingham Round the World Reading Challenge
kittiwake: (Default)
It was the same with his trousers. Mma Ramotswe kept a general watch on the generously cut khaki trousers that her husband wore underneath his work overalls, and eventually, when the trouser legs became scuffed at the bottom, she would discreetly remove them from the washing machine after a final wash and pass them on to the woman at the Anglican Cathedral who would find a good home for them. Mr J.L.B. Matekoni often did not notice that he was putting on a new pair of trousers, particularly if Mma Ramotswe distracted him with some item of news or gossip while he was in the process of getting dressed. This was necessary, she felt, as he had always been unwilling to get rid of his old clothes, to which, like many men, he became excessively attached. If men were left to their own devices, Mma Ramotswe believed, they would go about in rags.

As Mma Makutsi sets a date for her wedding, Mma Ramotswe starts to worry that her assistant may decide to give up work once she is married, and Mr J.L.B. Maketoni persuades his wife to let him investigate the case of an unfaithful husband.

When I read the previous book I was getting rather bored of this series, so I left a gap of a few months before reading this one. I feel entirely differently about this one, so perhaps the charming television series which is currently being shown on Sunday nights has reawakened my liking for the books.

Nottingham Round the World Reading Challenge - BOTSWANA / GABARONE
kittiwake: (mythology)
'What is going on here?'Mr Nandha demands as he walks through the scrum of police, Ministry warrant card held high.
'Sir, one of the factory workers panicked and ran out into the alley, straight under,' says a police sergeant. 'He was shouting about a djinn; how the djinn was in the factory and was going to get all of them.'
You call it djinn, Mr Nandha thinks, scanning the site. I call it meme. Non-material replicators; jokes, rumours, customs, nursery rhymes. Mind-viruses. Gods demons, djinns, superstitions. The thing inside the factory is no supernatural creature, no spirit of flame, but it is certainly a non-material replicator.

Set in 2047 in an India that has fragmented to separate states just 100 years after gaining independence, this story is told from the point of view of about a dozen very different people. But who or what is manipulating them all? Could it be N.K. Jivanjee, leader of a Hindu fundamentalist group that threatens to destabilise the state of Bharat? Or perhaps a mysterious company called Odeco, which has fingers in a lot of very interesting pies?

Another quotation containing massive spoilers: )

The way that Mr Nandhu's security programs are displayed as avatars of the Hindu Gods really reminded me of David Brin's novel "Earth", as did the multiple viewpoints and the environmental theme, with water-shortages in some of the Indian states caused by the damming of the River Ganges upstream, and Bengal's plan to change the climate by towing an iceberg all the way from the Arctic.

I wonder why they didn't bring the iceberg from the Antarctic. Surely it would have been a shorter and more direct journey than towing it from Arctic Canada, all the way down the Atlantic, round Africa and across the Indian Ocean (or round South America and across the Pacific if they went the other way). I can only think that they would have been hampered by unfavourable winds and currents.

Nottingham Round the World Reading Challenge
kittiwake: (kittiwakes)
There is almost no waste to a cod. The head is more flavorful than the body, especially the throat, called a tongue, and the small discs of flesh on either side, called cheeks. The air bladder, or sound, a long tube against the backbone that can fill or release gas to adjust swimming depth, is rendered to make isinglass, which is used industrially as a clarifying agent and in some glues. But sounds are also fried by codfishing peoples, or cooed in chowders or stews. The roe is eaten, fresh or smoked. Newfoundland fishermen also prize the female gonads, a two-pronged organ they call the britches, because its shape resembles a pair of pants. Britches are fried like sounds. Icelanders used to eat the milt, the sperm, in whey. The Japanese still eat cod milt. Stomachs, tripe and liver are all eaten, and the liver oil is highly valued for its vitamins.

How did cod change the world? I'm afraid that information is on a need-to-know basis only, and if you need to know, you will have to read this book! This book tells the story of the rise and fall of the cod fisheries of the North Atlantic, and includes a selection of cod recipes from the past 500 years.

A note for Mark Kurlansky: Fish and chips is not hyphenated, and it's a chip shop (chippie for short), not a fish-and-chip shop. I'll have cod and chips twice please, wrapped.

Nottingham Round the World Reading Challenge

PS: Yowlyy has already asked to borrow this book, so if any of the Bookcrossers on my friends list are interested, I'll be doing a book ring.
kittiwake: (kittiwakes)
I'm not sure how Isabel Dalhousie manages to become more irritating with every book, but somehow she manages it.

In this book she is the most unrealistic new mother ever - completely unfrazzled and apparently getting plenty of sleep.

Nottingham Round the World Reading Challenge
kittiwake: (Default)
I think I have read one of Anne Tyler's book before, maybe "Searching for Caleb" since I vaguely remember something about a fortune-teller. Since then I have occasionally read the blurbs on the back covers of her books when I have seen them in Waterstones, but I have never been keen enough to buy one (or even borrow it from the library).

I only read this because it was picked for my on-line book club's February / March read and I wasn't really looking forward to it, but I enjoyed it way more than I had expected. It is the story of two families who become friends after picking up their newly adopted Korean daughters at Baltimore the airport at the same time, one a family of middle-class liberals and the other a family of Iranian immigrants. Each year the families hold a joint Arrival Day party to commemorate the day that Susan Yazdan (formerly Sooki) and Jin-Ho Dickinson-Donaldson became part of their families, attended by their extended families.

I liked how the tale was told from multiple points of view so that I got to know both families, seeing them from both the inside and the outside. It starts with Susan's grandmother Maryam, who resents the Donaldson's and especially Jin-Ho's right-on mother Bitsy for thinking that they are always right about everything, but later on you realise that Maryam is not exactly perfect herself, being prickly and quite hypocritical, moaning about Dave showing an interest in Iranian fairly tales when it was Maryam who brought up the subject, and resenting her cousin's American husband for embracing all things Iranian.

Nottingham Round the World Reading Challenge
kittiwake: (travel)
Ulysses met with no other ships west of Greece -- perhaps because there were none. In his encounters with the inhabitants of the lands and places which some scholars have called 'mythical' it is noticeable that all these people are landbound. The story of Ulysses is, it seems, the story of the first Greek sailor to explore the unknown Western Mediterranean. The reasons why so many of the places and events described have been over-laid with fantasy and myth is because even when Homer was writing, some three or four centuries after the events described, this part of the Mediterranean was still practically unexplored.

During WWII, Ernle Bradford spent four years as a sailor on a British destroyer based in the Mediterranean. Afterwards he spent many years cross-crossing the Med in a variety of small boats, and in this book he tracks the course of Odysseus's ten year voyage home after the Trojan War. His sailing experience made him realise that the Mediterranean as seen from a small boat, is an entirely different place than when seen from a large ship, and led him to him to develop his own theories about how far Odysseus and his men could have sailed or rowed in a day and their likely route and landing places. He came to believe that the geographical features and sailing directions mentioned in the Odyssey were accurate and based on real sea voyages (apart from the trip to the Pillars of Hercules and the Stream of Ocean) and he was able to match them to the descriptions in the Admiralty Pilots for the Mediterranean. Even though an earthquake in 1783 changed the contours of the sea bed in the Straits of Messina and weakened the savage whirlpools, as late as 1824 a British naval officer wrote that he had seen ships spun round by Charybdis, including a seventy-four gun ship .

Bradford points out that before invention of the magnetic compass, North, South, East and West were not exact directions, and he took this into account when thinking about the sailing directions mentioned in the Odyssey. The stars were in different positions then, and the North wasn't marked by the Pole Star, while in Classical times the Greeks had the concept of a Summer East and a Winter East, since the sun rises and sets in different positions at different times of the year. Even in the 1960's, in decked boats with compasses and charts, Mediterranean fisherman and traders were less likely to put out to sea in rough weather than northern European sailors, and liked to hug the coast and lie at anchor each night, so Odysseus and his men in their open boats would have been even more likely to do so.

There are so many interesting things in this book, from the concept of sea gates like Stromboli, to the deep sea creatures thrown up onto the beaches at spring tides by the up-welling of cold water off Messina.

An utterly fascinating non-fiction book published in 1964, that should interest Odyssey fans and sailing enthusiasts alike.

Nottingham Round the World Reading Challenge
kittiwake: (travel)
At the start of the book, Viktor is in hiding at an Antarctic research base, and has a very bad conscience about taking Misha's place on the aeroplane for himself. A dying Russian businessman who is also in hiding there, pays for his return journey in return for taking a message and a credit card to his wife in Moscow. The story is rather fragmented this time, with Viktor going to Moscow and then Chechnya in his search for Misha. In Chechnya he ends up working at a crematorium, run by a strictly neutral basis by the Russian businessman who now owns Misha, and on his return, he reluctantly becomes an Aide to a Ukrainian politician.

This is a Black comedy with a satirical take on corruption in politics, business and the media, as well as Russia's war in Chechnya, but the story is too episodic, and doesn't hang together as well as "Death and the Penguin". I found it rather too convenient that Viktor was given the credit card, which lets him buy himself out of all his difficulties.

Nottingham Round the World Reading Challenge
kittiwake: (travel)
Before she took off her Tibetan robe, she removed her possessions from it like a magician producing birds out of hat, From two inside pockets came books and money, and from pouches inside the sleeve some little sheep leather pouches. From her right boot came a knife, from her left some papers. She reached inside the waist of her robe and brought out two large empty leather bags. Then she removed her long silk belt, attached to which were other little leather bags and tools.
I watched in amazement: her robe was her luggage. It turned out to be her bed as well. She spread the robe on the bed as a mattress, placed the silk belt over the books and papers to make a pillow and then turned the sleeves of her robe inside out. She stuffed all her possessions into the inside-out sleeved, with the exception of the knife. Finally, she lay down on her robe, pulled the two sides around her and covered her legs with the two big empty bags. Both her body and her possessions were perfectly protected.

When one of Xinran's listeners tells her about meeting a woman who has just come back to China after three decades living with nomads in Tibet, Xinran goes to meet the woman, and spends two days listening to her incredible life-story before she disappears again.

In 1958, hospital doctor Shu Wen is newly-married to an idealistic army doctor, who is sent to Tibet with the army of liberation. After less than 100 days of marriage, she receives news of his death and unable to accept that he is dead, she joins the army herself in order to travel to Tibet and look for him. She is shocked to find that the Tibetans consider the Chinese to be invading rather than liberating them, and has only been in Tibet for a few days when her she separates from her comrades and heads off into the wilderness with a Tibetan noblewoman called Zhouma. They end up living with a nomadic family, and it is decades later before Shu Wen, now a buddhist and fluent in Tibetan, can take up the quest for her husband again.

This is a very quiet book, full of solitude and patience, and Shu Wen meets with much kindness from both Tibetans and Chinese.

Highly recommended.
kittiwake: (history)
I have read this book before, a long time ago, but picked this copy up at a BookCrossing meeting in Birmingham.

The Pyrenean village of Montaillou and the surrounding area were hot-beds of Catharism at the turn of the 14th century. At the time Montaillou was in the Comté de Foix, which was still independent of France, but now the village is in the French department of Ariège. The local bishop ensured that the inquisition's questioning of suspected heretics and witnesses was documented in detail, and since he preferred to arrive at the truth through detailed interrogations rather than torture, the inquisition's records contain a wealth of information about the everyday lives of the peasants from this mountainous region, as well as about their heretical beliefs.

It's lucky that there is a list of members of Montaillou's main families at the back of the book, since so many of them are called Guillaume, Raymond, Guillemette and Raymonde that it is hard to remember which is which. There are also lots of men called Arnaud, Bernard, Jean, Pierre and Pons, and many women called Alazais, Esclarmonde, Mengarde, Rixende and Sybille.

Nottingham Round the World Reading Challenge - COMTÉ DE FOIX
kittiwake: (travel)
'The tide's turned', said Sander Groat. He wiped his slimy hands on his trousers and walked over to the crag. He took from a sandstone fissure a large stone jar. He prised the cork out of its neck and sniffed the contents. 'This is strong stuff,' he said. 'It's been in the jar since before Christmas.' He set the jar down on a flat rock in the centre of the noust.
The fishermen gathered round it, unwrapping their pieces. James of Dale sank his gums into a wedge of new cheese; the pale juice ran down into his beard. Abel Bews of Lombist had two cold smoked cuithes. Harold Bews cracked the delicate grey-blue shell of a duck egg on a stone. Peter Simison took from under his jacket a large round bannock, thickly buttered. Howie the carpenter had two boiled crabs. Peter and Howie shared their food. Tom of Estquoy say slightly apart from the other men. He had a slice of bread from the baker's at Hamnavoe, doubled over, with honey in the middle. 'I never eat when I'm drinking', said Sander Groat, and winker, and raised the ale jar.

A selection of stories set in the Orkney Islands at various historical periods. They are very atmospheric stories, mostly realistic stories about the lives of the islanders, but a few of them have a touch of the supernatural. The stories really capture the hard lives of the fishermen and crofters, and just how lonely it could be in such a small remote place for the incoming ministers and schoolteachers. You also feel the sadness at how the islands are gradually becoming depopulated as young folk and those with a more adventurous spirit leave for new lives in the cities or the Dominions. And even in the stories set in the twentieth century, the Scandanavian names of places and people hark back to the time before the Orkneys became part of Scotland, and remind you that the islanders are the descendants of the Vikings.

Loved it - definitely a keeper.

cuithe = a coal-fish
noust = boat beaching place

Nottingham Round the World Reading Challenge - UNITED KINGDOM - SCOTLAND - ORKNEYS


kittiwake: (Default)

June 2012

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