A small but cosy crew enjoyed a discussion around Madeleine Bunting’s offering at the Waterloo Bar last week. The book on the table was Love of Country: A Hebridean Journey.
Thanks in advance for advance reviews from Brian and Declan. The general view was in line with your fine observations.
Much appreciated were the parallels (language, culture) between the Hebrides and Ireland and for providing an entrée into unexplored aspects of Scottish/Highland/Hebridean history and culture. Most felt that Bunting did a very good job of weaving together tales from a journey with a rich background of cultural, historical and geographical points of interest.
There was agreement around the construction and narrative being rather traditional or old fashioned but enjoyable, engaging and dealing with a a setting of great interest.
There was a sense that she harboured a special resentment for the metropolitan elite that repeatedly spring up as the villains of the story. yet these are the ones essentially bearing the costs of the providing the benefits to the Hebridean dwellers who want the benefits. I wonder how this dovetails with her book on work/life balance in the modern world?
On the downside, there was a perceived disjunction throughout the book between the various Isles, different structures, different voices that at times even verged on a whiny recounting of the journey. Maps throughout may have helped guide the journey. A simple addition of an overview map at the beginning of each chapter with the island being discussed highlighted would have aided the reader immensely.
Place and identity, as was pointed out by both absent correspondents, was a underlying motivation and useful theme and objective for the book. It is especially timely with the Brexit kaffufle raising similar questions.
As with many of our reads there were murmurs that it could have been shorter and seemed to take liberties that didn’t benefit the overall telling. I would further note that I was disappointed that there were a wealth of allusions but little elaboration where it would have benefited the reading to have some limited background – Orwell notwithstanding – well treated.
As an outlier vote I am loathe to go into a lot of detail on my own quibbles (but I feel compelled to mention a couple as made 6 pages of Kindle notes as I struggled). I found the book a tough read and didn’t really engage until around 60% which just made me resentful. I found the prose well constructed but had a sense that she was writing more to be clever than to appeal to the reader. References to writers making similar journeys didn’t necessarily illuminate, they tended more to confuse with a lot of names and places and simply speak to her own reading than to aid in her own recounting. This was in contrast to her earlier work on the Channel Islands that I recalled having read and liked.
For me Love of Country read as a narrator’s script. It it were coined over a visually rich documentary it would have worked brilliantly, but lacking the visuals the words failed to paint the rich picture they might have. When she admitted at the conclusion that she had made multiple journeys with different people at different times, much was laid bare and some of the characters that seemed to emerge and disappear made more sense – but didn’t excuse what came across as disjointed and badly edited.
As a group we asked the telling questions:
Would the book entice anyone to want to visit the sites discussed? Not necessarily. Having been to an isle or two actually made the reading easier for some members – which simply spoke to an insider’s view written by an outsider. But the presentation didn’t invite one to visit the sites discussed.
Would you recommend this book to anyone?
Again, a not necessarily. I think most were glad to have read, although not all would actually pass it along to others.
The scores on the board were very respectable and no round of drinks needs be provided at our next gathering ;-)
Fergal – No Vote
Brian M – 7.5
Declan – 7.5
Joe – No Vote
Brian C – 5.0
Jim – 7.5
Mike – 7.0
Shawn – 5.5
Thanks Brian for the recommendation.
Our chosen read for next month is: The Butcher, the Baker and the Candlestick Maker: The Story of Britain Through its Census since 1801.