Friday, 26 September 2014

The Silver Darlings by Neil M Gunn

This is a novel set in a fishing village in northern Scotland. It follows the fishermen as they go out to catch the herring (the silver darlings of the title), seeing this new industry as a way to escape the brutal effects of the Highland Clearances. It also follows the story of Finn from his early childhood to his marriage.

There are lots of long slow scenes in the novel, many of them set on the boats as they battle with wild weather and uncertain fishing conditions. Also a long section about the effects of a devastating sickness (referred to as the plague) that rages through the community.

Early in the book a whole chapter is devoted to Finn's early encounter with a butterfly, which is beautiful and touching as it explores the development of his relationship with nature

"As he rounded the hazel treea butterfly rose from his feet. ...... It settled and slowly, without looking at it(except out of the very corner of his eye)he moved towards it, but not directly. He got within a few feet, but then could not restrain himself from rushing. The butterfly rose and danced on through the air, down the burnside."

As you may guess though, given that a whole chapter is devoted to the encounter, it doesn't remain an idyllic scene and Finn learns his first lesson about living alongside nature.

The book is beautifully written, full of the rhythms of the language of north eastern Scotland. Also a great deal of insight into the relationships between the various characters. It's a coming of age novel, not just in terms of Finn as an individual but for the communities that are developing the new industry of herring fishing as a way to secure themselves a brighter future.

The Silver Darlings by Neil M Gunn published by Faber


Maureen @ Josephina Ballerina said...

What an interesting title for the book. It's funny, the older I get, the more I cannot tolerate anything mean or cruel or sad. I guess I saw enough of it as a nurse and in my life in general. I bet I would be distressed by the ending of the butterfly chapter. Oh well. Still sounds like an interesting book.

Lucy said...

I read this years ago, and quite a lot of other Neil Gunn books, I remember really enjoying them, and not minding a bit about the slowness. Also Lewis Grassic Gibbon, and Naomi Mitchison and other Scottish writers.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Hi Maureen, I was upset by the end of the butterfly chapter,

Lucy - I don't have a problem with the slowness, but it is so noticeably slow it is worth mentioning in a review. I love Lewis Grassic Gibbons' Scots Quair, by the way