The Silver Darlings (Ff Classics) - Neil M. Gunn

Good grief, this was bleak and boring. Sure it ends on a hopeful note, but I am just so done with this book.


Previous updates:

Reading progress update: I’ve read 291 out of 585 pages:

The story is still mostly about the “plague” (the cholera outbreak), fishing, and Finn growing up in the mids of the impotence of the people against their circumstances, but there are some beautiful passages:

“Finn had often heard of Cape Wrath and now had plenty of time to gaze on its towering crags against which white sea-birds floated like blown feathers, their high cries sounding afar off and inward, in echo of rock and cavern. It inspired the crew with awe and held them to silence, and none the less because the sea around it was to-day comparatively calm with, however, that ominous long swing and heave of the waters that broke in deep white. Peril was clearly held on uneasy rein, and the rock-brows stared over crested seas to an uttermost Arctic.”

(Cape Wrath. Image found on the interwebs.)

Reading progress update: I’ve read 206 out of 585 pages:

I am sure my fellow readers in the Library Book Club will love this.

It’s full of sympathy for and detail of the hardship of the crofters during and after the Highland Clearances and full of detail of the emerging fishing industry.

What I am lacking is a gripping story or an interesting character or some sort of of gripping tension or conflict or something other than what the story is providing.

I mean, the sections that dealt with the community’s response to an outbreak of cholera were great, and so were the sections that deal with any sort of … action … or drama … but the long sections in between are mostly about young Finn growing up, which is not very interesting at all. It could have been if we got see it from Finn’s point of view, perhaps, but we get told Finn’s story from a 3rd person narrator point of view.

It’s a worthwhile read, but probably less so if the local interest story holds no interest.

Reading progress update: I’ve read 18 out of 585 pages:

They watched him until his mouth fell open.

“I think I’ve got something.” He gulped, then pulled—but the line refused to come. It came a little way and then pulled back. “It feels like a whale,” he said, his eyes round, his head cocked.

“O God, it’s something heavy indeed!” Excitement got hold of them all strongly. What if it was a whale?

The forked stick was very nearly jerked out of Tormad’s hands. He had to let out more line quickly. Then a little more. Leviathan was moving away from under them!

Their hearts went across them. The boat rose on the heave of the sea. Now that they were clear of the land, a gentle wind darkened the surface of the waters. A small ripple suddenly slapped the clinched planking like a hand slapping a face. The sound startled them. Ronnie looked at the sea. “We’re drifting,” he said. “The oars, boys—quick!” cried Tormad. “Quick, or all the line will be out!” Ronnie and Ian each shoved an oar out, and Ronnie pulled the bow round so smartly towards the wind that Tormad, on his feet, lurched and fell sideways, clutching at the line, which all at once went slack in his hands. On his knees he began hauling in rapidly. The line came to a clean end. Sinker and hooks and cross-spar were gone.

Tormad stared at the frayed end against his palm. No one spoke. Tormad stared at the sea. It came under the boat in a slow heave and passed on.

“When one place is no good, you try another,” he said quietly. “Let us go farther out.”

Despite my original misgivings about the bleakness of the book (which may still set in later on) this has started as quite a gripping story.

This is set after the Napoleonic Wars. Tormad and his wife were moved from their home during the Highland Clearances and are now trying to survive, like others, in a barren stretch of land on the coast. The men, in their despair to find some source of steady food, have taken to fishing, but this really is their first attempt at it. There certainly is no expertise or skill of any experienced fishermen around that they could make use of.

What immediately struck me is that the men went out on the open sea – which is known to be choppy and freezing – in what seems to be nothing more than a rowing boat. I’m getting seasick just thinking about that.


Original post: