Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Orkney by Amy Sackville (5/5)

First published: 2013
Page count: 252

The back says: On a remote island in Orkney, a curiously-matched couple arrive on their honeymoon. He is an eminent literature professor; she was his pale, enigmatic star pupil. Alone beneath the shifting skies of this untethered landscape, the professor realises how little he knows about his new bride and yet, as the days go by and his mind turns obsessively upon the creature who has so beguiled him, she seems to slip ever further from his yearning grasp. Where does she come from? Why did she ask him to bring her north? What is it that constantly draws her to the sea?

I say: It’s been a while since I read a book that was so beautiful it broke my heart, and this is the main reason it took me over two weeks to finish Orkney. I knew from the get go that this was going to be a novel to savour, to read slowly in order to make it last.

In order to drown in all the emotions.

The prose is achingly beautiful, drifting into poetry every so often, lulling the reader into this world inside the professor’s head where his fear of losing his new wife dominate every move he makes. There’s a laborious desperation to his fixation that he himself cannot account for, and as he recalls how the two of them came to be – and how they are now – the end becomes more evident each day.

It is this gentle wait for the inevitable that Sackville does so brilliantly.

The professor is writing an anthology of women in folktales and fairy-tales that lure men away, and I loved the literary references throughout the novel; comparisons that heightened the relationship between them. What I also loved was the word games they played, especially the ones with colour.

‘Periwinkle’ she says. ‘I had a crayon by that name, as a child.’ Me, too, I say. How extraordinary. We fall quiet again.

Mauve, now, I say.


Tyrolean purple, I offer; it is almost entirely dark. I am almost near her, now. ‘Indigo,’ she says, softly, so as not to stir the silence. ‘Prussian blue.’ Indian ink. ‘Mussel-blue. Midnight blue.’ Not quite, I say. But come. Let’s go in. ‘Bedtime blue,’ she sighs.

- p. 229/230


I have already put in order for Sackville’s first novel, The Still Paint, as I have a sneaking suspicion that she is going to be one of my new favourite authors.


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