THE ISLAND OF THE WOMEN by George Mackay Brown


And Other Stories
Email this review


More tales of Orkney, told in the rhythms of an ancient oral history and infused with primordial magic and generational plotting, from the late (1921—96) Scottish poet, novelist, and playwright (Winter Tales, 1996, etc.). Like a certain blind bard of Greece, Brown in his later years felt it was his duty to give future generations of his countrymen a record of their origins and fate. Of the six stories here, the strongest, —The Fortress,— spans what seems like a hundred generations as it tells how the people of Gurness came by the conical stone tower that protects them. The steely guardian watcher, Jandreck, keeps himself aloof from petty diversions, waiting for the raiders who always arrive, eventually. Peace falls upon the oft-ravaged islands, yet Jandreck keeps on watching: a bard has predicted that his failure will one day lead to the death of them all. In his dotage, Jandreck falls for a plain girl he spies collecting whelks by the seashore; bitter over the waste of his life, he invites her in . . . . The title story of uncanny and tragic love between seal and woman shows how nature can supply islanders with a language for their unexpressed inner life. Sometimes, though, Brown wanders well off the track, though it’s a tendency he himself seems to defend: —If I were to relate them all, this story . . . would lose all proportion and meaning.— Even so, there’s frequently a trick hidden in his discursiveness. In that title piece and —The Wanderer’s Tale,— Brown spins a yarn in a voice as old as time, then pulls back to reveal an —author——in the former case, a skeptical monk; in the latter, a laird isolated from village life. Many are the pleasures to be had from surrendering to the voice and guidance of a master. Lovers of Scotland (and of language) won—t be disappointed.

Pub Date: Aug. 15th, 1998
ISBN: 0-7195-5869-7
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: John Murray/Trafalgar
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1998