The Summer Isles
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