The Sum­mer Isles

Scottish Field - - COVER TO COVER -

BY PHILIP MARS­DEN GRANTA

£20.00 ★★★ Caught be­tween a phys­i­cal jour­ney in re­al­ity and a world of folk­lore and leg­end, this book takes the reader on a voy­age that goes much deeper than most travel books. Years after the un­timely death of his beloved aunt, Mars­den is de­ter­mined to com­plete a solo sail from his home in Corn­wall, around the west coast of Ire­land and the In­ner He­brides, to reach his fi­nal des­ti­na­tion of the Sum­mer Isles in the Scot­tish High­lands. Mars­den ex­plores mankind’s re­la­tion­ship with the seas through real and imag­ined tales, with men­tion of sirens, demons and myth­i­cal is­lands. How­ever, it’s at this point of the book I came across a pas­sage that trou­bled me some­what. ‘They [the is­lands] be­come an earthly ful­fil­ment of all main­land fan­tasy: per­pet­ual health, un­end­ing youth, per­fect so­ci­ety, con­stant hap­pi­ness, wise men and oblig­ing women.’ I would hope a ‘per­fect so­ci­ety’, even a fan­tasy one, would in­clude wise women and men ca­pa­ble of ac­cept­ing them. It ap­pears Mars­den’s con­cept of the main­land fan­tasy re­quires drag­ging into 2019.

As the jour­ney be­gins, we get both a sense of how de­mand­ing the phys­i­cal as­pect of the voy­age will be and the strength of mind re­quired to com­plete it. As he meets dif­fer­ent peo­ple and passes through var­i­ous check­points, Mars­den un­cov­ers a va­ri­ety of tales which al­low him to build up a haunt­ing pic­ture of th­ese shores along the way. Through his de­scrip­tive and emo­tive lan­guage, the reader can al­most feel the adren­a­line as Mars­den pushes us to view the sea as a force that de­mands great re­spect and a nec­es­sary sense of fear.

The in­cred­i­ble power of na­ture is a mes­sage that re­mains preva­lent from start to fin­ish, whether it’s Mars­den’s aunt’s own in­spi­ra­tional love of ex­plor­ing the out­doors or the trans­for­ma­tive po­ten­tial of the weather to change a sailor’s mood with the sight of a blue sky.

The jump be­tween the telling of myths, his­tor­i­cal anec­dotes and the re­sult­ing philo­soph­i­cal pon­der­ings, to the ac­tual sail­ing ex­pe­di­tion, can get a lit­tle tire­some. How­ever, I did feel in­spired to don my wa­ter­proofs and get out on the wa­ter.

“The in­cred­i­ble power of na­ture is a mes­sage that re­mains preva­lent from start to fin­ish

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