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5.0 out of 5 stars Vividly portrays the Hebridean landscape, amongst beautiful writing
I read this book having heard a review of another of Maxwell's books recently on A Good Read, BBC Radio 4. Each of the three reviewers raved about his writing and knowing I had this, as yet un-read book of his on my shelves, I decided to read it. In short I am glad that I have.

I agree that Maxwell is a very good writer. His writing is intelligent and...
Published 14 months ago by Sally Walker

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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a basic description of the books appeal
This is Gavin Maxwell's first book . And tells of his attempt to set up a fishery for the basking shark ,on the west coast of Scotland . Maxwell bought the island of Soay in 1945. And set out to create an alternative fishery .But with no infrastructure in place to deal with the catch , and no real knowledge of how to go about catching the sharks , the problems he has...
Published on 16 Sep 2000


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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a basic description of the books appeal, 16 Sep 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Harpoon at a Venture (Paperback)
This is Gavin Maxwell's first book . And tells of his attempt to set up a fishery for the basking shark ,on the west coast of Scotland . Maxwell bought the island of Soay in 1945. And set out to create an alternative fishery .But with no infrastructure in place to deal with the catch , and no real knowledge of how to go about catching the sharks , the problems he has are almost inevitable . However the tale is laced with anecdotes and local colour which are the true magic of the story . Maxwell went on to be much more famous With his book ( A Ring Of Bright Water ) But for fishermen or anyone with a love of the west coast this is the one I would recommend
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5.0 out of 5 stars Vividly portrays the Hebridean landscape, amongst beautiful writing, 20 July 2013
By 
Sally Walker (Eastbourne, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Harpoon at a Venture (Paperback)
I read this book having heard a review of another of Maxwell's books recently on A Good Read, BBC Radio 4. Each of the three reviewers raved about his writing and knowing I had this, as yet un-read book of his on my shelves, I decided to read it. In short I am glad that I have.

I agree that Maxwell is a very good writer. His writing is intelligent and forthright, but yet often beautiful and lyrical. I give you an example:

"Behind it Glen Harris is a wide and empty cup in the hills, and just above the tide-line is the tomb of the late owner of the island, a palladian mausoleum of pink marble whose voice of anomaly is subdued to a bat's squeak by the vast hills and the moving sea." (Page 51).

The landscape that Maxwell brings to life so vividly in this book is that of the Hebrides and the sea in between many of the islands that comprise it. In front of this intensely beautiful and un-forgiving backdrop Maxwell and his crew of roughty-toughty men worked furiously for two-three seasons, (April/May to July/August) hunting down basking sharks, transporting them to the shark factory that he had created on the small island of Soay just off the southern coast of Skye, where they were `processed' for export to an anticipated and longed for growing market of customers. The creation of this industry had its germination in a spontaneous whim that Maxwell had after one near miss during the London Blitz in 1940. By the time that Maxwell brought to life his dream he no longer felt the same impetus he had at its inception, but still he pressed ahead.

In the end the venture failed. Maxwell believed strongly that this was because, against his better judgement, he was forced to develop the industry on the basis of selling every bit of the shark, rather than concentrating on extracting oil from the sharks' copious livers. In all, he slaughtered around two hundred of these unfortunate creatures. What impact this had on the overall population in this region is impossible to tell, but thank goodness Maxwell made the wrong decision at the outset. He also left behind a blot on the landscape of Soay, lost all of the money that he had at that time, bar five hundred pounds, together with all of the money that his nine subscribers had invested in his venture. In the end whenever he returned to Soay it was with fierce and bitter nostalgia, (his words). I think the most positive thing to result from this debacle was that for the first time some scientific research could be undertaken of the sharks in the form of detailed examination of some of the corpses and field observation. This increased our knowledge of these magnificent leviathans. But I would rather that we remained ignorant and the two hundred alive.

Maxwell's unique, intense and contradictory character is evident in this book. In particular I refer to his conflicting views towards different creatures. He confesses that if the basking sharks had been land living animals he could never have killed them, but somehow because they are fish this made his destruction of them acceptable. He wrote an interesting and thought provoking section on pain and cruelty.

Whilst the descriptions of the hunting down and killing of the sharks makes for difficult reading at times, I think this is a book worthy of being read, not least because of the force of the writing itself.
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Harpoon at a Venture
Harpoon at a Venture by Gavin Maxwell (Paperback - 17 April 1999)
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