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3.3 out of 5 stars64
3.3 out of 5 stars
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 11 February 2013
`Orkney' by Amy Sackville is an odd story skilfully crafted and emotionally draining. It is essentially about the effects of obsession. Richard who narrates is beguiled with his much younger wife. He wants to possess her both physically and mentally. Because of the forty years age difference Richard worries that she will have a life one day separate from him. The young woman (whose name is never revealed) is an unearthly, ethereal creature with strange silvery grey flowing hair. She is fascinated by the might and power of the sea- at night she dreams of being engulfed by it (she cannot swim), during daylight she wanders the shoreline or stares out into the horizon. Newly married they are honeymooning in a small cottage. Richard is on sabbatical working on his opus a book about enchantment and folklore observing his wife she recalls to him many of the women that he is writing about `she is Protean, a Thetis , a daughter of the sea, as shape-shifting goddess who must be subdued `. Instead of working he glazes out at his wife framed by the window.
In many ways `Orkney' and the sea is also a central character. There are long beautifully rendered passages minutely observing the shifting landscape as the waves ebb and flow. The narrative when describing the changing light and colour is pure and lyrical. I can almost hear the roaring of the sea and see the changes in the skyline. I liked the way the landscape echoed the story of the couple. As his behaviour towards her becomes more and more possessive the elements change, a mighty storm erupts and the sea appears in his dreams as well. Daylight becomes shorter and nights lengthen and we sense the unsettling nature of their relationship. They spend evenings together drinking whisky and she relates ancient tales of mermaids and Selkies.
The story is only told by Richard and it did occur to me several times that Richard had lost grip on reality that what he was relating may only exist in his mind. I felt that the line between fiction and reality was blurred.
Brilliantly written `Orkney' is an excellent read to savour, clever and finely constructed by a really talented Writer.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 25 May 2013
Let's cut to the chase - the beginning promises much, the prose is a delight and the plot draws you in. I had an increasing fear that it was going to be all style and no substance and I was right. I won't give away the ending, other than to say it is so obvious that you read on because there is bound to be a twist. There isn't. Read it if you are content with dreamy, atmospheric writing and little else.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
TOP 100 REVIEWERon 7 February 2013
A beautifully presented book, 'Orkney' is the second novel from Amy Sackville, whose debut novel: The Still Point won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. This second novel, is a compelling and haunting story, first-person narrated by Richard, a university professor who, at sixty years of age, marries one of his students, an ethereal, white-skinned, silver-haired beauty, almost forty years his junior, whose name we never learn. For their honeymoon, Richard's wife asks him to take her to a remote island in Orkney, a strange choice, he feels, for a romantic autumn holiday, but deeply and obsessively in love with his young wife, Richard is happy to comply with her wishes. And so they arrive in Orkney and stay in a comfortable, old farmstead, spending their days exploring the coastline and gazing out to sea - or at least our heroine does, for Richard, who is on a sabbatical from his university, spends part of his days researching and writing an academic book on enchantment. In the evenings, Richard cooks for them both and they drink wine or whisky sitting by the fire, telling each other stories, before retiring to bed to make love. However, neither of them sleep entirely well because our heroine has vivid and frightening dreams, where she imagines she is in peril from the encroaching sea. As the days pass, Richard increasingly asks himself why his wife spends so much time wandering along the almost deserted shoreline and gazing out across the waves, when her dreams reveal a horror of drowning; and, as their honeymoon continues, he finds his thoughts continually returning to the enigma of his wife's history - where does she come from? Why did she choose this remote northern island? Where does she go to when she is not with him? And what is it that lures her relentlessly to the sea? And then there is her absent father - what really happened to him?

Exquisitely written using lyrical, sensuous language, evocative of the flow and cadence of the sea, this is an intense, beguiling and unsettling read, where the author deftly conjures up for the reader, the beauty and bleakness of her characters' surroundings and feelings. Interestingly, Amy Sackville has expressed her admiration of Virginia Woolf's stream of consciousness style writing, and Sackville's narrative does have some similarities; however this author has her own unique voice and I look forward to listening to more of that voice in the future.

4.5 Stars.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
TOP 50 REVIEWERon 21 March 2013
This is the second book by this author, the first of which was The Still Point. I was not overly impressed with The Still Point, but wanted to give this book a go, as I love books set in and around Orkney and such isolated islands, such as Night Waking (Sarah Moss) and Island of Wings (Karin Altenberg), and The Solitude of Thomas Cave (Georgina Harding).

To be honest, I'm not quite sure what to make of this book. The story is narrated by a newly married older professor, who has married his young student. Together they go on honeymoon to a deserted Orkney island, a place that she has chosen to go. But she is terrified of the sea. While they are there, the husband, Richard relates events of the day, interspersed with remembrances of their meeting and courtship. It's obvious from the start that Richard seems to know very little of his wife, and she remains an enigma to him. But the story itself is not all that surprising to the reader. I found Richard somewhat naïve and ultimately perhaps a little bit annoying.

The writing is very emotive, very lyrical, scattered with literary references. But the story itself does not live up to the promise of the writing. Good, not great.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Amy Sackville is a wonderfully tender, lyrical writer, with a real gift for describing the intensity and precision of emotional experience, the being-present-in-the-world, the here and now, whether that is in descriptions of that world itself (particularly landscapes) or the intensity and precision of what it feels like to properly experience one's own internal emotional landscape - what does it precisely feel like, what is the physical heft and weave of jealousy, fear, loneliness etc

However, what is her gift, also is her Achilles heel - she can get caught in the lyricism of the moment and lack momentum to gather and drive narrative forward.

This was certainly true in her beautifully written first novel, The Still Point and is true still with Orkney, though to a lesser extent (and is responsible for me not quite being able to go the full five star rating)

Nonetheless, this is a delicate and powerful book, tangling up deep abiding myths; always satisfying, the myths than come from several different cultures and historical times ARE so satisfying because they come from a deep unconscious, collective unconscious, place.

In Orkney, the narrator is a literature professor, Professor - (his name is not given) a 60 year old man who has specialised in those myths, particularly myths of female enchanters with a watery connection - Circe, Undine, Melusine, the selkie myths, mermen and mermaids, the Sirens. He is the December part of the love story, his mysterious 'May' is a curious young woman, often referred to by reference to those Undines, Ondines, Sirens, but otherwise described as 'my wife'. She is one of his students, some 40 years younger. The two have very recently married and the narrative is an account of their 12 day honeymoon on Orkney. Anyone who has any familiarity with any of the selkie myths, from stories or from folk songs, will immediately be aware of the story, and anyone unfamiliar, will pretty quickly become familiar because the versions of the story are liberally referred to in the text.

The delight of the book is NOT 'what happens' - we rather know that right from the start, it is rather, how does it feel that this is the story. And more importantly, how can we balance the absolute intensity and possession of overwhelming love, with the fact that love will always end, the beloved will leave, or die, or love itself dim away from that intense and overwhelming place. And then. How do we live then?

I loved the strange story; I loved her evocation of the landscape, but as mentioned earlier, there were times this got a little too drawn out - particularly the verbal games the Professor and 'my wife' played, in describing the muted and subtle colours of the landscape. Sackville clearly has an artist's eye, and paints the world with beautiful words; I could really see the refined shades, the textures in the water and the mist she was describing, but perhaps this occurred 2 or 3 times too often, so that I began to have a snagged sense of 'here we go again, another high, fine poetic moment - a bit like a set piece' - when the journey's end of story really needed steering towards. 'The story, the narrative drive' is of course something which traditional myths and faerie stories manage superbly - in many ways, character is broad brush, the journey of the story IS the story - I would have liked a little more of that economy in Orkney.

Nonetheless I will certainly be looking forward to book number 3. Sackville is an interesting, accomplished and absorbing writer.

Here is a sample of her delicate humour (an excerpt describing cookery skills, or their lack)and, secondly, of that painter's eye for landscape, describing the moment when a wild, savage storm begins to clear.

"She has a gift for the contrary, for transforming innate qualities into their opposites: crisp leaves turn to mulch, the most tender meat toughtens, what might be moist stales in her keeping to become heavy and dry; even tinned custard, in her custody, somehow becomes lumpen"

"And then all at once, a crack appeared in the cloud, the sun at one corner of it like a god's eye, casting a piercing landscape across the sky, and then one after another, rods of silver broke through to announce his presence. Like some awful ruthless salvation, the sun burned the edge of the cloud-bank magnesium white, and shone brilliant on the still-tender, cleansed world; the rock pools transformed into blinding mirrors and the sea, so lately needled to fury, was lulled and banded with whispering silver as it approached the shore, and there was the terrible argent fire of the cloud's lining after the storm"
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 18 March 2013
Yes it's beautifully written but I struggled to finish it which I didn't expect to at all because I loved 'The Still Point.' For me, the problem was with the lack of narrative. I'm not entirely sure I believed in the relationship of Richard and his wife. The single voice of Richard was very oppressive and limiting. I felt the novel needed another viewpoint. Not entirely sure what happened at the end and felt very dissatisfied. Didn't feel either that the myths being interwoven in to the story really worked. They reminded me of a marvellous story teller: Cat Weatherill who does a session on similar sea stories which is absolutely brilliant.

Still a writer to watch though.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Do consider buying this in hardback, as 'Orkney' is such a pleasure to hold and read, the cover pictures softly beguiling and magically setting the mood.

Rich and emotive, lyrical and literary, Amy Sackville composes her work with astounding maturity. She gets right inside the mind of her sixty year old professor Richard; he's in over his head, enraptured by his nearly forty years younger student, now his new wife. A fortnight's honeymoon for this apparently ill matched couple on a remote Orkney island begins in ecstasy, becomes obsessive and dark, as the wraith like, never named, young woman settles into changing and reforming as she spends more and more time by the sea. Each chapter is a day of this sojourn, paced quietly as the tension builds.

Full of fable, wonderful language, clever conversation and passages of exquisitely described nature and landscape, this writing could be coming from any time, so much so that when they went shopping and bought Hellman's Mayonnaise it seemed weird.

This is not a crime story; it's difficult to define a genre, more of a mystical romance, an essay on doomed desire and the pull of unseen forces. Sometimes I wondered if it went on a bit but the richness of the narrative always rewards. I was sorry not to be allowed more information; there is a mystery, which is sadly never solved.

A treasure of a book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 6 May 2013
This has to be one of the strangest books I have ever read. The style of writing was its only redeeming feature and made me think I must persevere with it, that some interesting event must surely occur at some point, but by the time I reached 90% I realised that was not going to happen. No plot, characters who never really came to life, a bizarre ending. I have never been to Orkney, but I did not feel there was any sense of place, despite the endless descriptions of the sea. I understand the author has written another book, "The Still Point". Perhaps the title of this one should have been "No Point". I bought this as a kindle daily deal for £1.39 and feel it was overpriced. The cover on the paperback edition looks to be the best thing about it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 6 December 2013
After reading Peter May's dark thrillers set in the Hebrides, I was definitely in the mood for more about remote Scottish islands. I bought Amy Sackville's Orkney a while ago, but (after one or two false starts) I hadn't got round to reading it. The night of the Great Storm over Britain definitely provided the right atmosphere - the TV screens, even in Italy, were filled with images of surging tides and wild winds.

I loved Amy's first book, The Still Point, and really rate her writing - poetic, atmospheric prose of the kind that isn't fashionable in main-stream publishing these days. Fortunately Amy's published by Granta who like the experimental and unashamedly 'literary'.

Orkney has no plot, only 2 main characters (a few walk-on parts) and feels as though it's written in real time. But the prose compels and draws you in the further and further you go - rather like the sea around the island.

Richard, an elderly academic, has married one of his students after a very short acquaintance. She has no family he is aware of and no friends. But we only have Richard's word for that - he is obsessed with her and can't see anything very clearly outside what his young wife calls 'the frame' he has drawn around her. In Richard's first person journal, her name is never mentioned. She has no identity other than the one he creates for her.

Richard has brought her for a honeymoon on the Isle of Orkney - to a remote cottage where he is going to make endless love to his wife and work on his book about mythologies. They are his speciality - particularly where they relate to women:

'Transformations, obsessions, seductions; succubi and incubi; entrapments and escapes . . . Curses and cures. Folk tales and fairy tales retold. And all the attendant uncertainties, anxieties and aporia. Do I wake or sleep? Fantasy and phantasm. Beautiful terrible women. Vulnerable lonely cursed women. Strange and powerful women. It's an old obsession.'

And it's one that should worry his wife. Everyday she goes to sit on the beach to watch the sea. And Richard watches her from inside the window.

'She's staring at the sea now. My young wife. There she stands on the barren beach, all wrapped up in her long green coat, among the scuttle and clatter of pebbles and crabs.'

Gradually more information about her past emerges - her father had disappeared when she was a young child - perhaps lost at sea. She is fascinated by tales of Selkies and Finfolk - men and women who come from the sea to land, but must always go back again. She can't swim and dreams of drowning, night after night. The novel creates a real intensity and claustrophobia as the relationship between the two is exposed within the four walls of their tiny cottage buffeted by wild Atlantic gales.

'I lay awake for hours, on my back, listening, eyes open or closed, I could not tell, an equal darkness within and without. Our bed a berth in a boat, below deck, the sea pressing up at the window and rolling and moiling below us; the fish swimming by the glass indifferent; tiny shrimp coiling and stretching in meaningless Morse code; all the sightless, glowing life of the ocean floating past. A Leviathan's eye, filling the portholes, peering in.'

I won't spoil it by writing about the ending, but I'm still speculating about just how reliable Richard is as a narrator - he has a tendency to see everything one way and can't be contradicted. The clues to what is happening are in the fairy tales, re-told by firelight, the myths and superstitions that inhabit the abandoned hearths of the island.
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on 27 June 2015
Did I miss something? I find it very hard to understand the enthusiasm shown for this book. Its one redeeming feature is that there are occasional passages of evocative landscape description, although they don't convey a sense of Orkney, simply a wild bit of coastline.
Its key failing is an utterly unconvincing main character. He is a caricature of a curmudgeon (clumsily signposted by signals like sneering at a man ordering whisky 'on the rocks'). His thought life about the girl doesn't ring true - maybe its me knowing its a male character written by a female but I just didn't believe it. And there is no evidence of the spark between the two even through the rather dry literary banter. Perhaps this book is where they end up months down the line, when disillusionment has set in but this is supposed to be their honeymoon.
The island is populated by neat little caricatures of 'island folk' and a holidaying family. All rather tedious. Why would you care about any of this/them?
The story itself can generously be described as thin. I was expecting some development through time as the relationship unravelled or the girl becomes more ethereal and unknowable. As it is every day seems the same. Bad dreams, she sitting alone on the beach, him watching through the window unable to work, maybe some minor incident/imagining relating to her fear of water and later a touch of whisky and bodies entwined.
And then it ends. Phew.
There was an attempt to weave in local myths. Being generous we can see parallels between the myths and what was 'playing out' in the story but in reality that strand seemed like an appendix (here's something else I know about Orkney, folks) not an integral part of the narrative drive.
Oh and it has great swathes of blank line to no noticeable effect (other than pushing a short story up to the 250 page mark) and a fascination with words that could have been enjoyable but just feels like an annoying literary device.
I really didn't enjoy this and would not have persevered unless reading for a Book Club where it was given a near-unanimous thumbs down.
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