This novel tells the story of a father and a son and their own unique experiences as Island inhabitants nearly seventy years apart. I say “unique experiences” but the similarity in their experiences may be even more telling. The book is told in the Parallel story-line method that has become very popular in recent years. First we meet Edward Mackay who has just suffered a near death experience with a cerebral aneurism. He has a long recovery ahead, not to mention a permanent shunt in his head. When he is finally ready to resume working he accepts that his former teaching job is an impossibility but he finds a job working on the Orkney Islands as part of a team of researchers looking into the feasibility of creating power from the tides. (And fans of Ann Cleeves will remember that this was one of the themes of her Fifth Shetland Book) Edward also has a new interest in finding out more about the father that died seventeen years earlier because he is sure he met him in the shadowlands between life and death.
Alexander Mackay’s story begins on a ship in 1928 as he is on his way to Penang (Malaysia) where he will take up a position as Doctor in charge of the baby birthing unit; he is determined to increase live births and decrease maternal deaths. We learn that Alexander was a veteran of the first world war which only makes sense when we learn that Edward was born when his father was quite old. I think Alexander’s Island experience may have been more confining since “mixing” was more limited at the times.
Edward sums up certain aspects of his life on Orkney when he says……
“A mixed bag, a mixter-maxter as they say. Natives and incomers and returnees all coming together in these bright rooms. In cities you chose your company, which means you end up with people like yourself – same interests, values, income bracket, aspirations , sexuality. But on small Islands you make due with whoever happens to be there, and so are put in the company of folk you wouldn’t otherwise know.” (page 218)
The author does not seem to suggest that this is good or bad; just the way it is. Sheesh, I knew all this growing up and watching “GILLIGAN’S ISlAND” on television because there is NO way Ginger and Maryanne would have been roommates if they hadn’t been stranded on a deserted Island.
I like the Edward character. He is a straight, never married, middle age man who even gets the “so what’s wrong with you question” (meaning why have you never married) that female literary characters must often endure in the same situation. And isn’t it often a right person / wrong time or wrong person / right time situation. Any ways, both main characters experience a romance of sorts.
The author is a Scottish writer ( and poet) and I will definitely check out some of his other novels.
P.S> I sometimes forget that blogs reach an international audience so I will explain that “GILLIGANS ISLAND” was a silly but popular show in North America during the 60’s and it featured seven people stranded on a deserted Island.