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Download Sea Room: An Island Life in the Hebrides epub

by Adam Nicolson

“No other book has given me as rich a sense of what makes a small island so revelatory of our life on earth.” —David Craig, London Review of BooksIn 1937, Adam Nicolson’s father answered a newspaper ad—”Uninhabited islands for sale. Outer Hebrides, 600 acres . . . Puffins and seals. Apply . . .” In this radiant and powerful book, Adam describes, and relives, his love affair with these breathtakingly beautiful islands called the Shiants. Crowned with huge cliffs of black basalt and surrounded by tidal rips, they are wild, dangerous, and dramatic—with a long, haunting past. Sea Room celebrates this extraordinary place and shares with us the greatest gift an island can bestow: intimate and profound engagement with the natural world.
Download Sea Room: An Island Life in the Hebrides epub
ISBN: 0865476675
ISBN13: 978-0865476677
Category: History
Subcategory: Europe
Author: Adam Nicolson
Language: English
Publisher: North Point Press; 1st edition (June 2, 2003)
Pages: 400 pages
ePUB size: 1340 kb
FB2 size: 1367 kb
Rating: 4.7
Votes: 405
Other Formats: docx lit lrf doc

Adam Nicolson inherited a sisterhood of three small Hebridean islands from his father. In this book, he considers the richness of his inheritance and how he intends to pass on that inheritance to his son in turn.

“Sea Room” starts with a description of how Nicolson had a sea-worthy boat built for him to navigate out to his islands. Reading about the labors of the master-builder he employed is like a lesson in the zen of boat-building. It puts the feel of the wood in your bones as the boat takes shape. I only wish Nicolson would have included a glossary in this book, so the landlubber could easily catch up on the meaning of boat-related words such as “strake, pintle, gudgeon,” as well as on the meaning and pronunciation of many geological and place-name words encountered throughout the book. What's more, most of the pictures in this edition are small, grainy, and dim and don't help much to illustrate matters.

Nicolson goes on to recount the succession of people who inhabited the islands, including early Norse settlers, a religious hermit, missionaries and reformers sent to eliminate the semi-pagan ways of the residents, crofters (small farmers), shepherds, geologists, historians, and now the occasional tourist. Nicolson doesn't necessarily recount these waves of habitation and abandonment in strict chronological order, but instead weaves their narratives into a sort of hanging tapestry.

There is also a history of how these islands were geologically formed, through the interplay of magma eruptions and erosion over the ages. Nicolson resorts to one of his quirkier similes here when he describes the crimping in some of the giant shoreline rock columns as looking like the perm in Jean Harlowe's hair. People under 40 might be left all-at-sea by such allusions.

He also tells about both the wildlife and the domesticated life (mostly sheep) that occupy the island in seasonal shifts. Then he tells about some of the persistent negatives of the place. There are rats, rats, rats – and the incessant wind

This is generally such a literate, poetic reflection on the isolation and meditation that is possible in such a wild place as this – something like the classic “The Outermost House” - that I hate to make any criticisms. But just sometimes, Nicholson's earnestness slips into purple prose. His noticing of everything on the island and his imputation of mystic, historical importance to it seems a little bit self-congratulatory and self-promoting. “See how intensely I notice and feel everything!” Such ardency over every detail might begin to weigh a bit heavy on the reader.

One longs to just ignore something - take it for granted. I was reminded of being on an “Eat Your Way Through the Woods” hike on which our ultra-enthusiastic guide was extolling the tastiness and edibility of so many of the plants we passed. Someone finally called out, “Where is there a hamburger tree?” In the same way, when Nicolson waxes ultra-earnest over the deep, primordial significance of a rock he finds, a rebel reader might want to call out, “Let's play kick the stone down the road.!”

Or alternately, one might wish that Nicolson would cast his net of enthusiasm a little wider, perhaps to include more of the living people around him. When he expresses the hope that his son in turn will feel the urge to intimately know the islands and appreciatively come to understand their rhythms – when he hopes the boy will develop the same mystical bond with them that he feels, the same “odd, deep, distant attachment” to them – a reader might long to have the same sort of attentions from a spouse. But indeed, most spouses' enthusiasms, if there are any, are wrapped up in feeling the animism of some such inanimate other.

But this is a good, sea-worthy book that teaches a lot about a unique part of Scotland and that illustrates what riches mindfulness can bring a person.
This book is, as one reviewer accurately puts it, a "scattershot" account of one man and his deep, abiding love for the Shiants (pronounced "Shants"), the three barren islands he has inherited in the Outer Hebrides. The man is Adam Nicolson (Baron Adam Nicolson, mind you, though he never mentions the title here, in keeping with his ambivalence toward "ownership" of them, described quite thoroughly herein). This love and attachment to place and his experiences - sometimes quite harrowing - constitute the theme of the book in the first several chapters and the last.

N.B. - The web page here, for some reason, puts the book's length erroneously at 256 pages. My copy and those of other reviewers with different editions who mention the length all seem to have the correct page number: 391.

The middle of the book - especially compared with the poetic prose of the first chapters - is a bit weighted down for my tastes with geological, socio-economic and historical minutiae about these islands. It's all quite interesting at first. But, caveat lector, Nicholson does go on a bit. In fact, the middle of the book would serve quite well, I think, as the foundation for a doctoral dissertation.

But let me get on with what I loved about the book. Nicolson is a highly reflective, poetic and yet dogged writer who writes with a lovely relish about the desolate, frequently perilous beauty of these islands. He describes - better than I can - his instincts in life and writing beautifully:

"One of the reasons I loved the Shiants was that they were away from the world of definition.....I never think things through. I never have. I never envisage the end before I plunge into the beginning. I never clarify the whole. I bank on instinct, allowing my nose to sniff its way into the vacuum, trusting that somewhere or other, soon enough, out of the murk, something is bound to turn up."

He goes on to quote some lines from poet Denise Levertov:

"There's nothing
The dog disdains on his way,
Nevertheless he
Keeps moving, changing
Pace and approach but
Not direction - every step an arrival."

He also mentions Emily Dickinson and quotes Yeats and Shelley. These are the sections I truly loved. Other reviewers have tended to dwell on the last chapter and the question of whether Nicolson should "own" the islands. The question is very much a non-starter for me. He should.

In his passage describing medieval solitaries, Nicolson writes:

"All the solitaries of the past have lived with that intense inner sociability. Their minds are peopled with taunters, seducers, advisors, supervisors, friends and companions. It is one of the tests of being alone: a crowd from whom there is no hiding."

It is the great wonder of the best parts of the book that the reflective Nicolson describes his own inner personae, but that also the reader meets actual people - fulfilling these same roles - whom Nicolson has encountered during his long enchantment with the Shiants.