Beadyjan's Reviews > Island of Wings

Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg
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's review
Jun 24, 2012

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bookshelves: pastures-new, historical
Read from June 24 to 26, 2012

This review also features on my book blog

I chose this book as it appeals to my longing for escape, I love to read about women who have settled somewhere remote and alien to their usual surroundings and you can't get much more remote than the Isle of St Kilda.

This book tells the account of the lives of true couple Reverend Neil McKenzie and his wife Lizzie who in 1830 take up residence on the Scottish Island of St Kilda to bring Christianity to the barely civilised, superstitious Gaelic speaking islanders who live in mounds of earth, eat little but seabirds and are resistant to change. Life on St Kilda is hard, barbarous and pitiless and deprivation and hardship are a way of life.

Its a brutal yet beautiful location and Lizzie finds the isolation devastatingly lonely yet finds a solace in the wildness and freedom of the island. Unable to communicate with the islanders she finds it hard to get to know them and as her husband becomes increasingly moody and hurtful towards her she struggles to cope.

Battling to cope with the death of her firstborn drives a wedge between the couple and leads Lizzie to seek companionship with the local women, united in tragedy as the mortality rate of newborns is terribly high on the island most dying within a week of birth.

The book describes an unusual setting, the struggles of a difficult relationship made harder by having to rely so heavily on each other for companionship despite having been virtual strangers when wed. Life must have been incredibly lonely and hard for this young bride in an era when breaking away from the constraints of conventional life was virtually impossible and when women did seize the opportunity of escape there was no going back and they just had to make do with what was thrown at them.

A fascinating look at life on an island like no other, although in some parts I found the story dragged but overall a worthwhile read especially for anyone who has an interest or curiosity about the setting of St Kilda.
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