The Colony by Audrey Magee

The Colony: return to the previously existing state of affairs

Be transformed to a windswept place where time is stretched in all directions and can’t be stopped to hold on to tradition, despite the efforts of two big-headed vistors who feel they have a right to exploit it for their own betterment.

It’s the late 1970s. Ireland is weighed down by many events linked to The Troubles. But on an isolated Irish island, apparently separate from the sectarian violence, two men, one an English painter, the other a French linguist, take their residence for the summer. It’s a small island in the Atlantic, a few miles off Ireland’s west coast, and sparsely populated. Both visitors desire, even demand at times, an authentic experience of ‘real’ Irish island life and fancy themselves being better, more fair-headed and more significant than the other.

The painter wants to revive his artistry and paints the cliffs, the elements, the people, but finds that the island already has a painter, albeit one who doesn’t know this himself: the young James (who does not want to be called Seamus). The young islander starts to paint, naively perhaps and unskilled, but full of life and orignality. He is the one who truly captures the island, because he lives it and knows it, and because he has no expectations of it. And the professional painter starts to feed off James’s energy and talent, makes him vague promises.

The linguist wants to save the Gaelic dialect that is fading with the decreasing number of island inhabitants. But as it turns out, he is much more engaged in using the island language for his personal gain: to obtain his professorship through his research of the disappearing language.

The two men compete for being relevant. The islanders seem to do very little, they are very watchful and seem mostly to be above and beyond all the goings-on, perhaps because they know the men will leave as soon as they have found and taken what they came for, purely for themselves, leaving the islanders none the better. And not changing anything, as perhaps it should be.

There is no real climax. After the two visitors have left, the island remains at ever was.

The writing is beautiful, mesmerising at times, especially when words are captured in possible painting titles – and it seems like you have picked up a poetry collection – or when the smallest things are described with such attentiveness and the visitors are described with pungency. But as a reader you remain an onlooker, you are kept at bay. And perhaps that’s how it’s supposed to be. You feel the island, its melancholy, the weight and stagnation of the tradition and even the fleetingness of the one summer that means nothing at all. The book offer a slow and wonderful journey. I have read it from the comfort of my couch but felt utterly transported to the storied outcrop.


Isle of Mull – The Letters of Ivor Punch by Colin MacIntyre

Usually after I finish reading a book, I know exactly how I experienced it. Sentences and scenes can stay with me for days. With The Letters of Ivor Punch by Colin MacIntyre I wasn’t sure of my ‘final judgement’. It was such a mixed bag. I thoroughly enjoyed some parts, but struggled with others. And it’s hard to summarise in a few lines what the book is about, which can be a good thing.

Ivor Punch is an old man and former policeman on a small island in the west of Scotland. He doesn’t speak much. But when he does, he throws in the word fuck every few lines, a habit that I found utterly annoying, because it made him come across as an imbecile, and it halted things, I didn’t see the point of it. But what Ivor does do really well, is write loads of letters (which, again, he peppers with countless fucks). The letters are revealing, touching and very true, and are the framework of the story. All those letters are linked to island stories, to the people who live(d) on it, including multiple Punch generations. Fiction and facts are liberally mixed up.

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Erik Orsenna – Deux étés



Erik Orsenna – Deux étés

Original title and publisher: Deux étés – Paris : Librairie Arthème Fayard, 1997

The first sentence of Deux étés is made up of no less than 175 words. After reading it, I was somewhat discouraged and put it aside, at the bottom of my ‘must read’ pile. After a week or two, I picked it up again for a retry and found myself reading it in one go. And since then I can not help but wonder why this book was never adapted for the screen.

Place of action is an idyll : île de B., a Breton island,  ”deterring the clouds; they keep their distance, as if they’re attached to the mainland. An irresistible smooth sky, it must be the caress of a sidetracked Gulf Stream. Flora from different climates, aloes, mimosas, palm trees, a piece of Sardinia in in the middle of the Channel.” Orsenna’s visual and colourful language makes you experience the blue of the ocean, the green of the trees and the variegated flower splendour.

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Virginia Woolf – To the Lighthouse

To the lighthouse

Virginia Woolf – To the Lighthouse

The Hogath Press, 1927

What does one send to the Lighthouse? It opened doors in one’s mind […]

Woolf set her story about the holidaying Ramsay family on the isle of Skye. The Scottish island setting is distinctive – the weather, the sense of isolation, the sea, the vast and often inhospitable landscape – but there are no clearly recognisable landmarks. And the lighthouse is not a distinct Skye lighthouse, but was inspired by her own childhood memories of Godvery beach n Cornwall. Fans have no locations to trace.

So much has already been written about this gem of a novel; people have obtained their doctorate with a dissertation on its structure, symbols, hidden meanings. And when you take the time, To the Lighthouse will capture you and transport you the island of all childhood summers.

I first read it when I was still in high school, where the modernist classic was considered essential reading (meaning obligatory). As a teenager I was taken by the allure of the lightly connected sentences that seemed to mean much more than I could understand. Nothing was too obvious, it was all so inconclusive. The characters seemed very old-fashioned and vague. All that ado about not going to the lighthouse, and then going after all.

Thirty years later, for my visit to Skye this year, I read the book for a second time and it was like reaching a new destination. I now understood the lighthouse to be a symbol of unfulfilled desire, an unreachable destination. The quiet, profound love of Mr and Mrs Ramsay’s marriage says it all.

This novel about a family holiday to a far away island, in a time when not many people had the privilege to go on vacation, is essentially a group psychoanalysis of familie ties, braching off at friends, memories, time and death.

Read more about about  Skye on 2Islomaniacs.