Sea Room: An Island Life in the Hebrides
An elegy to a Hebridean island through time.
The author is the grandson of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, and son of the man who last purchased the Shiant Islands (pronounced shant) that sit in The Minch off Lewis. The book is an homage to them. Not, as might be expected, a tale of living on the islands, which Nicolson never does for any extended period of time. Instead it tells the story of finding out about when they were inhabited, and how that habitation came to an end around the turn of the nineteenth century as the cash and market economy took over from the more self-sufficient one that had previously been in place. It's hard to say this was an improvement for the islanders, but equally hard to say that many would now seek out the kind of life they lost.
The main resonance here is with The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, in which Robert Macfarlane covers a lot of similar ground (and water). It makes no attempt to "sell" island life for what it isn't, and is dismissive of attempts at "structured" conservation in place of enlightened private ownership. It's hard to accept this argument, or at least hard to feel safe assuming that all future generations will be enlightened in the same way – although that's perhaps true of government quangos as well.
4/5. Finished 09 July 2021.
(Originally published on Goodreads.)