Kirkus Reviews QR Code
SABLE ISLAND by Marq de Villiers


The Strange Origins and Curious History of a Dune Adrift in the Atlantic

by Marq de Villiers & Sheila Hirtle

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-8027-1432-3
Publisher: Walker

The longtime Canadian collaborators (Sahara, 2002, etc.) outline the natural and chronological history of a 30-mile crescent of peach-colored sand that still eats an occasional ship for supper.

Dotted with greenery and wild horses, orchids and Ipswich sparrows, Sable Island is considered one of the great graveyards of the North Atlantic. It sits out there in the ocean’s steel-gray roil on the edge of the continental shelf. Who would ever suspect that there would be a shape-shifting island in this vastness, with submerged bars ready to trap and topple a ship? Very few, at least at first, explain the authors in their glinting profile. The island’s distant past is as foggy as its summer weather; Basque sailors may have been there, maybe Vikings, perhaps an Irish monk in a coracle. De Villiers and Hirtle provide a sweet little geological history of the place, a child of glacial retreat, and detail the island’s special location “in the center of this vortex, this complex system of currents, gyres, and rings” that give it stability but also may spell its doom by pushing it into the abyssal gully to the east. For such a small scrap of sand, the island has a dogged human history, borne of the rivalry between the French and English. A humane establishment was founded there to aid shipwrecked sailors (brought to life with excerpts from letters, diaries, and news reports) as well as to dump a lunatic or misfit or two. Access is guarded these days to protect the fragile estate and its inhabitants—seals that serve as fodder for the elusive Greenland shark, birds, and feral ponies—but the island remains under threat from energy interests and from nature itself.

Another finely etched portrait of a strange, romantic place from this accomplished duo. (15 b&w photographs, 3 maps, not seen)