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Island of Wings
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on 24 March 2012
I have a long standing fascination with the St Kilda group of islands, having first heard of them during a visit to Shetland in 1988, and having also read Tom Steel's seminal work The Life and Death of St Kilda several times, so when I saw the paperback edition of this book on sale in Waterstones in late 2011, had to buy a copy.

I was not disappointed, as the story fascinated right from the first page. Both Lizzie and Neil are based on real people who actually did exist, and although much has been written about the historial Neil, little is known of his wife. This book aims to redress that imbalance, and like other books that I read that year (2011), is written much more from the female perspective.

I suppose this is what I liked about the story - the idea of this strong woman who supports her man by sailing almost to the other side of the world to live among illiterate farmers whose language she cannot even understand. During her time on the island Lizzie loses several children, and as her husband becomes more and more fervent in his faith, she feels herself gradually losing him too.

This book, although hypothetical and based only loosely on fact is still very well researched. The descriptions of the St Kildan landscape and way of life really bring the story to life, adding much more depth to what could otherwise have been a much less ordinary tale.
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on 29 April 2017
This book gives a strong flavour of life as lived by a young minister's wife on St Kilda. It recounts the family, financial and religious pressures and the cheerful fortitude of native St Kildan's. The minister is a religiously driven, guilt-ridden soul whose wife bears the brunt of his calling and suffers isolation from her inability to speak Gaelic.
I thought it both an interesting history and a well told tale of marriage, vocation and endurance.
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on 20 June 2017
Great read. Although it is fiction it could be based on reality. It draws the reader in and the characters are flawed but likable.
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on 9 October 2017
Beautifully written story based on facts about the inhabitants of St Kilda. Very moving descriptions if their lives.
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on 12 June 2017
Without an interest in st kilda, the reader might feel this to be a lack lustre novel which is a little tedious.
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on 13 May 2017
Great historical detail about the lives of the islanders
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VINE VOICEon 25 June 2011
A well-researched, well written story about the minister for the island of St Kilda.

At times exploring his thinking, at others his wife's, it is sensitive and beautifully put together, as the minister is ground down by events and his own experiences.

A gentle but incisive look at the lives of the people on the island as it became increasingly obvious that inhabitation there was unsustainable.

The story is based, in large part, on the diaries of the minister, as well as the historical record and related diaries. This gives a depth and texture to what would otherwise have been purely fictional.

This is a gentle and fascinating book.
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on 4 February 2013
I have to admit that I have a wide range of readings tastes and I am quite partial to a historical novel. This one is set on the isle of St Kilda in the Outer Hebrides and is based on the real diaries and information based on the years that Neil Mackenzie and his wife travelled to Hirta (St Kilda) as a married couple and follows the years where he is the minister for the isle before his departure some years later.

The description in this novel was excellent and you could really sense the remoteness of the isle and envision the natives in the little huts, almost like wild savages living in filth and squalor. The magnificence of the birds and the bareness of this uninhabitable landscape is portrayed very vividly.

Unfortunately for the me the characters did not come to life. The minister, who was most defiantly, an unlikeable character was far to wooden and although you were told he did, this, that and the other you weren't shown this through the writing. His wife with her own struggles and isolation again I felt this could have been shown in a more remarkable way.

All in all this was a nice book with very good descriptions but very slow in parts and the ending was disappointing, They left the island as expected and that was that.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 January 2016
Based on a real-life Scottish minister and his wife who came to serve in the remote outpost of St Kilda in 1830, this is an eminently readable work, exposing the reader to the primitive conditions endured by the people on this tiny island, whose main source of food is seabirds. Their custom of ploughing bird carcasses into the soil as manure led to 60% neonatal deaths, while the difficulty of reaching the archipelago often meant deliveries of food were rare and the inhabitants nearly starved.
This is not an action novel: the reader imbibes the atmosphere, follows a difficult marriage and the personal struggle of the minister, determined to bring the word of God to a superstitious flock (but whose traditional lifestyle of working together for the common good, ironically enough, could teach the 'civilised' world something.)
I didn't feel I could somehow quite get into Lizzie, the long-suffering wife, as a real person, but the social history was so interesting that I enjoyed reading the book.
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on 25 October 2012
This book is difficult to put down as it is written beautifully and has a strong narrative drive. There are times when the characters are a little wooden because the author is walking a tightrope between fiction and history. However, Neil is wholly believable as a product of 19th century evangelism in Scotland, with a mass of contradictions and unpleasantness that he can justify by appeal to the authority of Heaven, Edinburgh or the workings of his own head. He is a character who is still recognizable today. Perhaps Lizzie is too, though the contemporary limitations imposed on her by duty, belief and geography are easier to overcome. There are a number of cultural references where the editing should have been more careful. For example, Paisley never had a Mayor (p. 10), there are mis-spellings of Gaelic (e.g., p. 62), and the famous St Kilda Surname of Gillies is rendered as "Gilles" throughout. However, reading the details and consequences of religious fervour chilled and delighted me, and awakened memories from many decades past. As a product of the manse, I remember it well.
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