Thursday, 28 August 2014

The Guga Stone by Donald S Murray and Douglas Robertson

St Kilda, the most remote island in the British Isles is uninhabited now, but is full of mythology surrounding the people who used to live there, before they were removed from their homes and resettled in other places across Scotland and beyond.

The Guga Stone is Donald S Murray's attempt to question the mythology, by rewriting some of the accepted truths about the island and inventing some mythologies all of his own. The result is a collection of stories and poems, which are by turn entertaining, exasperating and moving. The beautiful line illustrations by Douglas Robertson are a delight throughout the book.

It is entertaining trying to work out which stories are based in fact (I'm pretty sure the slippers made from gannets are real, as is the island's overall reliance on hunting seabirds) and which are false (I know for a fact there was never a goth culture on St Kilda, though the description of the island's goths is striking and apt:

Some thought they resembled cormorants 
with hair permanently tufted by the wind.

from Youthful Fashions on Hiort)

Some stories are much more hard to pin down and it in a sense doesn't matter. After all, isn't everything most of us know about St Kilda based on myths and misunderstandings? Yes, but sometimes I felt some of these pieces were perhaps too flippant. After all, though it is fun to play around with myths, it was a great tragedy that happened to the St Kilda community, one that Murray captures beautifully in Storm Petrel:

After the islanders were gone
storm petrels were no longer
guided ashore by psalms.

Ultimately this book that tells us more about how we see the world through myths, than it does about St Kilda itself

The Guga Stone by Donald S Murray, with illustrations by Douglas Robertson, published by Luath Press.

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