Thursday, December 13, 2007

Sharing Reviews on Sea Room

As with the other week's shared review session of Sarah Water's The Night Watch, this week, in our last book group session for the NAW (National Academy of Writing) Reading into Writing module, we brought in our reviews of the last text - Adam Nicolson's Sea Room. We all kept in mind the points covered by our tutors (check the link above for hints on writing a balanced and fair review), and here is mine:

Nicolson’s love for the Shiant Islands is clear from the outset of Sea Room’s narrative. He is as keen and determined to relate the kingdom of the islands and his experiences as it appears he was to have his own boat built so as to sail there alone. So passionate is he about this very personal world that the book is brimming with deeply engaging anecdotes and colourful descriptions, stretching back through time to give the reader as much of a panoramic view as they might get stood at the head of the na h-Eileanan Mora.

Visceral images are plucked from the features of the land and the inhabitants as if, at times, Nicolson were writing a literary novel intent on unearthing the great mystery of the Shiants. But he’s not, and here the reader needs to be on guard. Sea Room is ostensibly a meshing of travel and history-cum-biography. The poetry of his writing manages time and again to fish ever more words from the briny depths to describe the land, the sea and all that is in between, while never once giving the reader a sense of repetition. The profundity with which historical, ornithological and archaeological facts are investigated and excavated are both staggering and exhausting.

Sea Room is at its best when related to Nicolson’s life, his observations, and his endeavours to reach and live on the islands. The building of Freyja, the dangers of the Sound of Shiant and the Blue Men, and the arrival at the Shiants themselves are all standout moments, expertly interspersed among discussions of ownership and introductions to bird migrations. Alas these are all to be found in the first half of the book. What were originally Sea Room’s strengths get caught in a riptide that thrusts the reader out among the swelling information so that the book and the islands begin to feel ever more cramped. At the half-way mark Sea Room drowns readers (who only have a casual interest) in heavily-excavated archaeological evidence and endless discussions on the presence, or lack thereof, of seabirds.

Nicolson revives reader interest towards the last third of the book, again picking up his warming writing once more. However, one gets the sense that the book’s intent lies as much in wanting to disperse Nicolson’s detractors – who would have him removed as owner and the land given over to the RSPB – as it does in presenting a grand understanding of island life.

It's a very differnt review from my last one, opting rather than using the author's own words against himself (as I did with Sarah Waters) but covering more of the subject matter. I made a clear attempt to use metaphors that relate to the text to give a singular feel to the whole thing and in this case my view is more balanced than the last (I suppose it helps that I liked it more).

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