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Sea Room: An Island Life Hardcover – 1 Oct 2001
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Biographies are supposed to deal with people, not places, but Adam Nicolson's lyrical new book, Sea Room, is best seen as a biography. Dealing with the geology, history, natural history, sociology, and emotional resonance of the Shiants--a trio of Hebridean Islands between Skye and Harris --Nicolson's book is an all-encompassing characterisation of this remote corner of the British Isles.
Nicolson begins by describing how, inheriting the islands from his father as a young man, the islands have come to have an unusually deep meaning for him. This comes out in his painstaking reconstruction of the geological formation of the islands, of their ancient bronze and iron age settlements, and of the harsh lives of the families that lived here until large-scale economies destroyed traditional Hebridean life.
There is much sadness and anger in Nicolson's account of these changes, but also joy--joy at the richness of life in such a place, and joy that these changes have allowed Nicolson himself to experience the Shiants' beauty. The precision with which almost every inch of the islands' physical and historical identities are described is, literally, marvellous; Nicolson eschews generalities, and writes with a love of detail that is increasingly rare. Although the book is a little maudlin at times, this is only the reflection of Nicolson's own sensitivity to the place. The Shiants are anthropomorphised, becoming a character in their own right, proof that the tiniest place can reflect the passage of time. --Toby Green
Praise for Adam Nicolson's Perch Hill:
'A delight, beautifully written, acutely observed and laced with self-mockery' Jonathan Dimbleby in the The Times
'By turns ecstatic, elegant, subtle and philosophical' Richard Mabey
'A timely reminder that the very best writing starts at home.' Robert McCrum in The ObserverSee all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
The book consists of sixteen chapters fundamentally dealing with the geology, wildlife and archareology of three uninhabited islands lying five miles or so off the coast of Lewis. But this is no dry history. The back cloth is a dazzling concentration of towering basaltic cliffs, crowds of guillemots, razorbills, great skuas and 240,000 puffins; the violence and danger of the surrounding seas; the songs and verse which encapsulate former island life, accounts of attempted murder, witchcraft and catastrophe and the treasured place the Shiants still hold in the Hebridean mind. The stage is a microcosm of richness: Bronze Age gold, the memory of sea eagles, an 8th century hermit and his carved stone pillow, memories of cruel clearances soaked up by the landscape and tales passed down from generation to generation.
This is not another 'happy-clappy' saga written by a romantic, weekend recluse but a powerful baring of the soul by a man who has earned the admiration and friendship of his fellow islanders intertwined with his love of the past and a deep understanding of the rocks from which these islands have been hewn. For the first time since he inherited the Shiants from his father twenty years ago, Adam Nicolson tells the full story of his own experiences there in a style no other writer of the Hebrides has ever attempted before or since.Read more ›
Sea Room provides the reader with an entire magical world called the Shiant Islands. Their history is fascinating, out there among the Vikings, in among the lairds and feuds. Even the derivation of the various names is fascinating. Then comes Nicolson's own family involvement,(and the family we're talking about is that of Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West). Naturally, the Hebridean locals don't welcome him with open arms, this foreigner, this city-dweller. Not initially. But Nicolson the writer isn't telling patronizing yarns about local yokels; this is a serious portrait of the frustrations and triumphs that attend any project involving people and ownership.
But most of all, Sea Room is poetry. It's beautifully written. Nicolson's language effortlessly evokes rocky coasts and crashing seas and air thickly textured with the calls of half a million puffins. I fell in love with those puffins. And the Hebrides aren't that far away, are they? Not too far to nip up one day and have a look before settling back in my own asphalt paradise?
Maybe I might suffer form emothional bias when I praise this book therefore, having soaked up the enthusiasm of Adam Nicolson. But my passion for this book is still immeasurable today nonetheless and this is why - I am no geologist, but I became fascinated by the rocks on the Shiants even before I arrived, as I was the folklore of the islands, the history, the dark fierce winters and the stories linked to every beach. I love the fact that Adam Nicolson is soaked with sentimentality and nostalgia for the place, it's infectious and moving. Reading this book turns the Shiants into a living place, bustling with seabirds, sea breeze, seals and ancient settlements, a few rocks jutting out of the churning sea. Tieing this in with their sheer isolation makes it a perfect remedy for escapism, to an almost spiritual level. But far far better to go there, and this book will urge you to make the journey.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Fascinating account of Adam Nicholson's inheriting the Shiant Isles and all that entailed. The passages about finding and getting along with a boat builder etc are unsurprisingly... Read morePublished 22 days ago by Rod Parsons
Charming and illuminating glimpse of wilderness. To be enjoyed by anyone admiring the great outdoors. A little bit of everything.Published 3 months ago by Chris Wright
I tried really hard to like this book as I'm a lover of the Scottish islands and have visited the vast majority of the Hebrides over the years. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Mateus Rose
A narrative of a love affair by a gifted author, for a Scottish archipelago with descriptions of sailing single handed from the Hebrides across some dangerous waters, it's... Read morePublished 9 months ago by Richard Pelling
Very enjoyable read which was complimented by the recent TV documentaryPublished 9 months ago by Gerrye