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on 18 March 2011
A geologically-documented tsunami, a scattering of archaeological evidence, the shamanistic beliefs of hunter-gatherer societies: Elphinstone has used these ingredients to recreate a prehistoric world. Her research is admirable, but even more so is her talent for conjuring up the distant past.

This is a story told around a campfire by people whose relationship to nature is elemental. They have rituals for communicating with the spirits of animals, on whom they depend for survival. They joke with each other. They are capable of tenderness one moment and brutality the next. They seem very different from us and yet, in the end, not so different after all.
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on 16 January 2011
This novel is set in Mesolithic Scotland in the years following the geologically documented tsunami on the east coast of Scotland in 6150 BC following an underwater landslip off the coast of Norway. An entire tribe - for want of a better word - the Lynx People is wiped out, apart from four young men. They set of to find other people. The story depends on what happens to them. One marries into the Heron People and another marries into the Auk People who are at the centre of the action. The other two disappear until the end of the novel.
The Auk People live in a series of seasonal camps moving from one to the other according to whatever animals and plants are plentiful at that time of the year. So Salmon Camp is where they catch salmon during the salmon run, or River Mouth Camp for fishing and other sea foods.
Right at the beginning of the book one young man, Bakar who is an upcoming hunter, goes hunting by himself and never comes back. His mother, Nekane, is grief stricken and eventually becomes a Go-Between who can communicate with the spirit and animal worlds. She plays a crucial role in the second half of the book. Kemen, one of the displaced Lynx People, is adopted by Nekane's family group. At the next Annual Gathering of all the Auk People he meets Osane from another family group. She had been severely beaten and was unable to speak. He marries her. They have a son and, later, she begins to speak again. A hunter - Edur - from another Auk family had intended marrying her and his family claimed that Kemen had stolen her.
The novel comes to a cataclysmic conclusion at an Annual Gathering about five years after the story begins. The truth about Osane's beating and silence emerges as also does the truth about Bakar's disappearance at the beginning of the novel.
The characters are named using Basque-type names, since that language seems to be the earliest surviving European language. Details of Mesolithic life, drawn from modern archaeology, are quietly and convincingly brought into the story. This absorbing Mesolithic murder-mystery is a thoroughly good read which explores ethical questions unobtrusively.
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on 23 June 2010
I loved this book, it caught me up into the world of the past and at times I could hardly put it down. It is a different world, but there is plenty of detail to bring it to life and the people are, after all, just people. Good fun to try and recognise the locations. Highly recommended if you want to find out more about a little known part of our history.
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on 5 October 2009
Margaret Elphinstone writes about what she knows. Her research is impeccable for every one of her novels. All of which I recommend for a "different" kind of read. This latest one, The Gathering Night, is dreamlike but realistic, exciting and emotional, and moves along with one thinking one knows just what is going to happen, and perhaps it did.... like a forgotten memory.
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on 22 December 2013
This has become my annual midwinter read, when I range and hunt with the people of Auk. Such beautiful writing is rare indeed. The speech rhythms and courtesies of Mesolithic society are so well imagined and conveyed that the varying first person narrative takes you straight into the story, so that you too are sitting round the fire at night hearing how this story fell out. I highly recommend it for reading aloud to a group if friends, as well as for reading when you feel disconnected and out of sorts. I own this book as a Kindle and a printed book because I like to read it wherever I am.
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on 8 October 2014
For anyone interested in prehistory and anthropology, and for anyone who just enjoys a good story, this book is full of fascinating insights into what like could have been like in mesolithic Britain. The author has carried out extensive research in order to come up with a believable world, including shamanistic religion, hunting, gathering, travel by boat, family relationships and other social interaction. We see taboo take a big part in the story, as well as interesting concepts such as babies being "recognised" as a dead relative coming back, women being excluded from the hunts, shamans finding their spirit helpers - but we also have an engaging and human story with likeable characters. The prehistorical/anthropological ideas could have resulted in an artificial atmosphere, with too much emphasis on fitting in all the notions about what life might have been like, but this is not the case and the author deserves great credit for weaving the theoretical concepts into an engaging novel in a natural way. I give the book 4 rather than 5 stars as I felt the narrative was not quite as strong as it could have been, especially around two thirds of the way through - but this is definitely an enjoyable and interesting book, and I certainly recommend it.
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on 21 March 2013
Margaret Elphinstone creates a vivid picture of life in ancient times and draws you in to the concerns of the people living there. A great storyteller.
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on 9 August 2014
An imaginative and evocative journey into my land's story, whilst the style and structure took awhile to get into I felt they helped me get into 'being there' as the narrative gained depth and pace. Loved the attention to wildlife detail, especially the birds, and the courage to get pretty disturbing to make a profound point about our relationship to our habitat and all its' inhabitants.
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on 26 August 2009
This has been a pretty good holiday read. The book has a decent plot and an unusual setting (the mesolithic era). I do have to admit to being a little disappointed that it is more about people and less about their surroundings than I had hoped for. Margaret Elphinstone has a real but in this book under-used talent for descriptive writing, which is a pity when she has been clever enough to pick such a potentially fascinating setting for her story. But perhaps that's because I'm a bloke?The Gathering Night
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on 6 September 2009
Really makes you think. How do you research a book set so far in the past? Yet everything in this novel is believable. A very well crafted story that gives a real insight into how life may have been for modern humans living in Scotland 5000 years ago.
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