Author: Amy Sackville

Finished on: 8 May 2016

Where did I get this book: Salts Mill bookshop, bought as a present for my mum, and then borrowed back

To read Orkney I employed my increasingly frequent trick of bypassing the book buying ban by choosing books as presents for family or friends that I know will then lend them back to me (I’m sure they’re not cottoning on at all). And I selected this one primarily because of its title, named after the setting of the story.

I love Orkney. It is an extraordinary place where we spent a wonderful holiday a couple of years ago. The landscape, the history, the sea and the huge expanses of sky combine to make it feel like a place of real magic; so richly evocative and unusual that it could absolutely make a fantastic backdrop to a well written story.

Unfortunately not this one.

This book is over-written, self-conscious and miserable. To be honest, I found it pretty annoying. The writing is so self-indulgent and flowery that I fantasised about running it through the Hemingway writing app to cut out all the superfluous language. It wouldn’t have left much.

The story is essentially two irritating people having a rubbish time on their honeymoon. The style, which I’m sure plenty of people who enjoy a lot of very descriptive descriptions will love, just isn’t my cup of tea.

There is some interesting exploration of the stories and myths that surround the Orkney seas: mermaids, water nymphs and monsters. The honeymooning husband, Richard, is our narrator for the story. He is writing a book about these legends, and we catch several tantalising glimpses of a rich world of old tales where things actually happen, and magic is real. But we visit only briefly and superficially, and then we’re back to the mundanity of our protagonist’s internal turmoil and repetitive fetishisation of his wife’s eccentricities.

There is a strange combination of obsession and resentment in Richard’s feelings towards his wife.

I boiled eggs and toasted bread; the first slice I cut, righting the angle left by her last, tapered to a sliver. I reserved this piece, unavoidably burnt crisp at the bottom, for myself. Such are the sacrifices I make for her.

He never uses her name; his memories of her are different to her own of the same events. I was left with the impression that he may not really love her at all, but was just on some weird ego trip. Immersed in a self-created story where he loves the status of marrying a much younger woman who seems to have stepped straight from the pages of one of his books. So much so that he hasn’t bothered to get to know her properly at all. No wonder they are both having such a crap time.

The whole thing has a blurry, dream-like quality that could have worked well with a stronger plot. I quite liked the indistinct chronology, and the ambiguity of dialogue where you’re often not sure who is saying what, or indeed whether it is being said out loud at all. And it does have a mesmerising quality that means that it’s easy to read, and keeps the pages turning. I only wish Sackville turned her obvious love of language to a better story, and a less self-conscious style. I realise I sound impatient and grumpy, but that is how this book made me feel. I think I may even have harrumphed as I closed the last page.


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