on 27 May 1999
" The Silver Darlings" is one of my favorite of Neil Gunn's books...and I have read them all. This saga handles the period in the Highlands of Scotland after the "Clearances" of the crofters off the land by the landlords in the mid 18th Century. It tells of the time when the people were forced to live near the seashores and had to become fisherman to survive. The sea adventure part of the book is riveting and full of heart-stopping suspense. I had to read it through in one sitting..I could not put it down. I think anyone who loves the sea will love this book.
on 15 January 2002
Gunn,like Hardy, Dostoevsky, and Faulkner, writes with novels with universal meaning but a strong sense of place. The Silver Darlings seems to put you directly into Caithness after the Clearances, with clearly drawn characters and a touch of the mystical. An extraordinary book.
on 10 July 2010
The Silver Darlings is one of the best books ever written in English. It begs comparison with the work of the Russian greats - the psychological insight has a deftness and heartstopping accuracy that lifts the narrative beyond storytelling. Yes, Gunn IS a gifted storyteller, and you will be turning the pages faster and faster to find out what happens next, but the true value of the work is in its pure humanity. You will finish it and feel not only entertained and moved by the adventures of the characters, but also less alone yourself, and perhaps wiser. It is rare to find a book that illuminates so many different types of human relationships: romantic, platonic, familial, economic. For among other things, The Silver Darlings is a paean to economic freedom: a world in which men find honour by owning their means of production, rather than working as serfs on another man's land. This still has a lot of resonance today.
on 25 April 2008
I loved this book. Neil Gunn's view of boyhood and the interaction between Fin and those around him was so well written. I can remember going through these wild changes of mood and emotion as I grew up and I can see it happening in my own son today. Within this is an expertly woven story of post Clearances Scotland and the development of the newly formed fishing industry. Gunn delicately builds his characters with gentleness and detail that allows you to feel real empathy for them. I would recommend this book to anyone, but especially fathers of young boys.
on 14 January 2007
Cover notes are not always an accurate guide, but in this case they are. This novel, probably Gunn's best-known, is indeed 'packed with telling incident and thrilling adventure'.
The story focuses on Finn, a living symbol of Scotland's heroic past, as he grows through boyhood to maturity and fulfilment, bringing hope to his widowed mother and to the coastal communities of Caithness and Sutherland.
Finn is not "whiter than white": he delights in the challenges of life and on occasions is dangerously impetuous; but he displays the kind of male strength that leaves room for tenderness and sacrificial love. As a boy, he undertakes a walk of marathon proportions in order to seek help when cholera strikes his village, and later risks his life in the face of sea and storm in attempting to rescue his fellow fishermen.
Look out for the thrilling voyage to Stornoway, and if you have an atlas, find a large-scale map of northern Scotland - a pity the book does not contain one!
If you can wait, read "Butcher's Broom" first, however, because it serves as an invaluable guide to the historical background. If, like me, you go on to read Gunn's other novels, you will not be disappointed.
on 21 July 2013
`The Silver Darlings' is Neil Gunn's best known novel. The title refers to herrings. His story is both personal and universal. The lives of the novel's main characters are inextricably caught up in the fishing of herring. Their aspirations, loves and fates transcend the 18th century Caithness setting and powerfully illuminate the human condition. Gunn's psychological and sociological insights into `home' and `family', `adult' romance and teenage `angst' have a contemporary `feel'. At the same time, Gunn harks back to the Norse sagas in his portrayal of epic sea adventures. He turns the exploits of fishermen into myth.
The novel is wonderfully well structured. The story turns on two parallel incidents. In the first, the Viking-like Roddie (the best skipper in Dunster) misses Stornoway in huge seas. Dreadfully short of water and food, he and his crew find shelter by the perpendicular cliffs of Eilean Mór. What happens next is a defining moment in the developing enmity that the teenage Finn has for Roddie whose love of Catrine, Finn's mother, is becoming increasingly evident. Finn climbs the cliffs, brings back water and seabirds' eggs and saves the crew. Finn feels that he has triumphed over his skipper. Finn believes that Roddie's reluctance for Finn to attempt the climb stems from his fear of being the bearer of bad news to Catrine. Later, Gunn implies that Roddie part-wishes Finn's death since he perceives Finn as a rival for Catrine's affection. Soon the two men are fighting in a Stornoway bar, Finn angry `beyond all reason' and Roddie `berserk'.
Such depth of feeling is reminiscent of Greek tragedy although, in `The Silver Darlings', it blights the Roddie-Catrine-Finn inter-relationship rather than leading to a tragic outcome. Roddie and Catrine are married by the time of the second incident. By then, the fishing has expanded and it is easy for Finn to keep away from Roddie. Gunn describes how, in an easterly gale, all but one of the Dunster boats is back safely. Finn appears rope in hand as the remaining boat founders, fetching up on the skerries beneath the steep cliff. Only Roddie will have the nerve and strength to lower Finn over the edge to the fishermen below. `I'll go down on the rope', says Finn, `if you hold on'. `Will you try it boy?' responds Roddie. The connection between them is re-established: `It was a moment of communion so profound that Finn felt a light-heartedness and exaltation come upon him. This was where Roddie and himself met, in the region of comradeship that belies all the trials of the world'.
Gunn portrays Roddie and Finn as similar in their love for the sea and in temperament. Fascinatingly, Gunn makes Finn the more sentient by far. Finn is aware of the primordial `familiars of the other world', sensed on a knoll above Dunster and on the top of Eilean Mór. It is Finn's emotive response to the old songs and stories that clarifies his feelings for his mother. Finn is a story teller himself, enthralling listeners in the Helmsdale ceilidh house and in North Uist, doubtless adding to the repertoire and heroes of the other story tellers present. Against the theme of an ancient past, Gunn gives us a marvelous picture of characters becoming older and wiser over time. Finn experiences another fishing out of Stornoway (and, yet another, sensational storm). Finn returns bringing gifts, including `a little horn spoon with silver at the end of the handle' for his new baby brother. Roddie won't be off again to the Western Ocean. Finn - `the youngest skipper in Dunster' - will. And, I imagine, in time, so will `his children and his children's children' - as long as there are `silver darlings' in the sea. It's a terrific novel.
on 4 November 2011
Hitchcock (in 'Psycho') wasn't the first to remove the apparently main character in a shocking fashion near the start of the story. The shock here is of quite a different type, but be prepared for the spotlight of the story to shift where you least expect.
'Whisky Galore'and other tales helped us feel we know the Gallic West of Scotland and islands, even if we know the language not at all. We tend to forget that Gallic sirvived on the East coast well into the eighteen hundreds; Gunn vividly paints that place time and culture, so we almost feel we know it well, as the background for a young man growing into adult family and work relationships.
The Highland clearances are in the recent well-remembered past, and the Caithness folk are learning to live from the sea. My one complaint is a vertain vagueness about the precise date - possibly despite the vividness Gunn has allowed some historical anomalies to creep in.
Nevertheless I was completely gripped; recommended.
on 9 October 2007
If you think you'd like to feel the Highland wind in your hair and sea spray stinging your cheeks, then you'll probably love this book because it's all about herring fishing on the West Coast of Scotland during the 19th century......but before you start groaning let me finish.
It's a thoughtful and tender insight into Finn as he comes of age, and of his family and friends and the trials and jubilations that came along with the rapid and lucrative rise in the herring fishing industry.
I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to read something refreshingly different - uplifting, wholesome and totally absorbing.
Neil Gunn has crafted an affectionate and beautifully written novel, which evokes a time, a people, and a way of life that we can only dream of today.
Morrison's fish counter will never seem the same.
on 26 February 2012
Although this is a fictional account, Neil Gunn's writing brings the life of the fisher folk of north east Scotland so vividly to life one can be forgiven by thinking he was writing history. Delving deep into an industry that was always on the move, he follows the lives of the herring fleets, and the woman who do the hardest work and suffer the greatest loss when tragedy strikes, with intimate and enthralling detail.
This is probably Gunn's best novel and puts him up among the best of Scottish writers. Gunn is an alchemist who turns Silver Darlings into pure Gold.
on 26 January 2013
This is one of the most beautifully written pieces of literature, I have ever read. Neil Gunn manages to capture, the human condition, spirit, and emotion, in a manner that touches the soul. A tale of the very places, my own ancestors lived in the period the book was set, has given me great insight, to how they must have spent their lives. The book is so mesmerising, that it is hard to put down, and will have you eagerly anticipating the next page. Thoroughly recommended