A read from the standard shelf of my print TBR for once – I seem to be reading off my Kindle, review books (of course I prioritise those but I do try to alternate) and books from the Other Piles, so I’m not getting through those like I hoped. Also the week off has involved a lot of Doing Things, moving furniture sorting stuff out, which is good, but finally going to the opticians to choose new glasses and putting the garden to bed do not make much room for reading time. I’m even almost up to date with reviews on here rather than scheduling ahead – gulp! I bought this book in Oxfam Books at the same time as I bought “The Swordfish and the Star” and this read was more successful than that one, which I took to Cornwall in October last year and reviewed 368 days ago!

Madeleine Bunting – “Love of Country”

(09 July 2019)

A lovely, meditative book detailing Bunting’s travels in the Hebrides, the islands off the North-West of Scotland. As with Philip Marsden’s “Rising Ground“, the travels had to be broken up around family and other commitments, but it doesn’t make the book disjointed. Actually, given that she explores nature, geology, history and historical and contemporary figures’ stories, it could almost be said to be the “Rising Ground” of the Hebrides, the landscape being sacred in different but also ancient ways.

Looking at the map on the wall is a journey in itself and one that we’ve all dreamed of in some way

Here my mind landed, on a mark in the blue, and tried to imagine how it might feel to stand there and face out to the ocean, to be on that edge of home. (p. 4)

The book is set against the backdrop of the Scottish Independence Referendum, which doesn’t take over the book but is always there; the author examines how the remaining people of the islands have a Hebridean and/or island identity which is quite separate from their Scottish one. She also looks at how particular parts of history have been allowed to be forgotten by the mainstream, but how the Clearances are still etched into people’s minds:

Racism, betrayal and imperial exploitation: three toxic elements have been incorporated into different readings of the Clearances. (p. 149)

The personal is in here but, as I prefer, doesn’t encroach too much – she takes members of her family on some of her trips, also thinking of how her mum managed to cram a load of them into a tiny holiday cottage every year, but also does some of her trips alone, and we hear about her personal history but only in relation to the islands. Kind people arrange passages for her and answer her questions and there’s a very full acknowledgements section.

In a nod to Bookish Beck’s Book Coincidences, Unity Mitford pops up in this book (as her family owned an island she went to live on after her failed attempt to take her own life as Hitler’s fortunes fell), and was featured in the book I was reading at the same time as this, “Kitted Out”, a story of youth culture and fashion in World War Two which I was reviewing for Shiny New Books. She didn’t have to be in either, so a good catch, I felt.

The book ends with no answers but a lovely lyrical moment:

These histories have formed the dense weave of attachments across the British archipelago from which we now search for new definitions of nation to express and inspire human solidarity. On this edge, I see that where the weave of relationship and story frays, the filaments are exposed as fragile, whisper-thin. (p. 304)

There are lovely photographs reproduced throughout, but printed on the page in black and white and without captions. A great and slow read, to be savoured.

I have been reading the above-mentioned “Kitted Out” and the sequels to Diana Wynne Jones’s “Howl’s Moving Castle” as I have another DWJ coming up on the TBR and didn’t want to confuse myself. Next up is Paul Magrs’ “666 Charing Cross Road” which Bookish Beck is joining me in reading, and I’m also being shocked by “Slay in Your Lane” which is my current mealtime read and an extraordinarily important and good one.

What are you reading? Anything spooky and anything for challenges?