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The Lost Lights of St Kilda, by Elisabeth Gifford

by
17 July 2020

Sarah Meyrick reads an evocative novel about inhabitants of St Kilda and its evacuation

THE archipelago of St Kilda — the westernmost islands of the Outer Hebrides — lies about 100 miles west of mainland Scotland in the Atlantic Ocean. At the mercy of the wildest wind and weather imaginable, and entirely isolated for six months of the year, St Kilda was, none the less, home to a small and tightly knit group of islanders for the best part of two millennia.

The loss of their young men in the First World War, together with the difficulties of scratching a living in such inhospitable circumstances, finally proved too much for the islanders, and, in 1930, the last handful of St Kildans were evacuated to the mainland.

This beautifully evocative novel reimagines the dying years of a community whose story is deeply rooted in the wild landscape.

At one level, it is a simple love story: the love between one of the islanders, the young Chrissie Gillies, and Fred, a Cambridge student of geology who visits St Kilda in 1927 during the course of his studies. At another, it is a melancholy ode to a unique landscape and a lyrical lament for a lost way of life.

The plot has the lovers separated by betrayal, misunderstanding, and eventually war. In 1940, Fred is captured behind enemy lines in France, only to escape and go on the run in order to return to Scotland and his lost love. His journey is fraught with danger and intrigue, as he is passed between the different members of the Resistance who assist his passage. In the course of his travels, he uncovers the devastating truth about the choice that he made on St Kilda more than a decade earlier.

This is a compelling love story, meticulously researched and beautifully told. The sense of place is vivid, and the descriptions are so powerful that you can almost feel the chilly whistle of the wind. It is a haunting novel that lingers long in the imagination.

 

Sarah Meyrick is a freelance writer and novelist.

 

The Lost Lights of St Kilda
Elisabeth Gifford
Corvus £14.99
(978-1-78649-971-4)
Church Times Bookshop £13.50

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