Orkney by Amy Sackville

This is lovely: a beautifully painted story of love, obsession and loss, set on a remote northern Scottish isle, rising and falling like the tide …

Orkney“She’s staring out to sea now. My young wife. There she stands on the barren beach, all wrapped up in her long green coat, among the scuttle and clutter of pebbles and crabs. She stares out as the water nears her feet and draws back, and when that soft and insistent suck of the tide gets close enough to slurp at her toes she shuffles herself up the shore. Soon the beach will be reduced to a strip of narrow sand and she will be forced to retreat to the rocks; and then, I think, she’ll come back to me. In the meantime, I watch from the window, as she stares out to sea.”

Richard is a sixty-year-old English professor, Richard, captivated by his lovely young bride. She had been his student, his star pupil, and after a year of secret encounters, they ran away to get married, and then they ran to the one place in the world that called her. Orkney.

It was the sea that called her, and though she was frightened by its power, though maybe she had lost love ones to the sea, she had to watch it. Her husband can only watch, entranced by her. He is proud of his bride, and there are times when she clings to him, times are happy together. Times when Richard cooks for them both, when they sit together by the fire, drinking whisky and telling each other stories, when they retire to bed together.

But their nights are disturbed by her vivid dreams of being engulfed by the sea …

Richard is on sabbatical, working on the book  that will be his crowning achievement: a study of myths and legends about enchantment. Maybe the fair, ethereal girl standing alone in a windswept landscape has escaped from one of those stories. He knew little about her, and she contradicted many of the details in his stories of their history.

The story unfolds slowly, driven not by the simple plot but by the lovely, lovely writing. The words are poetic, lyrical, and lyrical and they describe the ebb and flow of the waves, the changing of the light, the coming of autumn and winter. The sea, the shoreline, the weather, everything came alive.

And it changed with the story: as Richard’s love grew obsessive the skies darkened, the days shortened, and the weather closed in.

But this isn’t a book to write about. It’s a book to feel, and a book that I know will haunt me.

4 responses

  1. A beautiful review of what seems like a beautiful book. I’m teaching a myth class right now, and we’re talking about selkies and other water spirits — this book sounds like a lovely take on that kind of story.

  2. This sounds like a lovely story. I was immediately attracted by the title as I’m actually reading a book set in 11th century Orkney at the moment!

  3. Ooh, this sounds like a really good book. And I love that it’s set on Orkney. How do you find such great books? Thanks for sharing this one. I’m putting it on my Must-Read list!

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