Read Sea Room: An Island Life in the Hebrides by Adam Nicolson Online


In 1937, Adam Nicolson’s father answered a newspaper ad—“Uninhabited islands for sale. Outer Hebrides, 600 acres . . . Puffins and seals. Apply . . . ”.In this radiant and powerful book, Adam describes, and relives, his love affair with this enchantingly beautiful property, which he inherited when he was twenty-one. As the islands grew to become the most important thing inIn 1937, Adam Nicolson’s father answered a newspaper ad—“Uninhabited islands for sale. Outer Hebrides, 600 acres . . . Puffins and seals. Apply . . . ”.In this radiant and powerful book, Adam describes, and relives, his love affair with this enchantingly beautiful property, which he inherited when he was twenty-one. As the islands grew to become the most important thing in his life, they began to offer him more than escape, giving him “sea room”—a sailing term Nicolson uses to mean “the sense of enlargement that island life can give you.”The Shiants—the name means holy or enchanted islands—lie east of the Isle of Lewis in a treacherous sea once known as the “stream of blue men,” after the legendary water spirits who menaced sailors there. Crowned with five-hundred-foot cliffs of black basalt and surrounded by tidal rips, teeming in the summer with thousands of sea birds, they are wild, dangerous, and dramatic—with a long, haunting past. For millennia the Shiants were a haven for those seeking solitude—an eighth-century hermit, the twentieth-century novelist Compton Mackenzie—but their rich, sometimes violent history of human habitation includes much more. Since the Stone Age, families have dwelled on the islands and sailors have perished on their shores. The landscape is soaked in centuries-old tales of restless ghosts and ancient treasure, cradling the heritage of a once productive world of farmers and fishermen.In passionate, keenly precise prose, Nicolson evokes the paradoxes of island life: cut off from the mainland yet intricately bound to it, austere yet fertile, unforgiving yet bewitchingly beautiful.Sea Room does more than celebrate and praise this extraordinary place. It shares with us the greatest gift an island can bestow: a deep, revelatory engagement with the natural world....

Title : Sea Room: An Island Life in the Hebrides
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ISBN : 9780865476363
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 391 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Sea Room: An Island Life in the Hebrides Reviews

  • Michael
    2019-05-14 20:13

    This was a surprising pleasure to read by the author of “Why Homer Matters”. I readily enjoyed its core as a sustained poetic reverie during his extended stays on a trio of remote islands in the Hebrides off northwest Scotland, the Shiants. These he received as an early inheritance from his father at age 18. Though only 500 acres of cliffs, meadows, and hardy vegetation devoid of trees, the islands are also a major nesting site of many seabirds, including puffins, skuas, gannets, kittiwakes, and geese. For a number of years Nicholson was content to visit alone during summers via a sailboat trip from a Harris Island port 5 miles across the treacherous tidal channel called the Minch. He retreated to a 19th-century two-room rock homestead without electricity and mediated on the vistas and on the violence of waves meeting cliffs. We experience him pursuing amateur naturalist observations in his explorations, reaping treasures and indelible visions. For example, I love his contrasting experience of puffins and the cormorant-like shags: Ludicrous and loveable puffins! Their sociability is as stiff and predictable as an evening in Edwardian London. Gestures of deference are required of any newcomer, and a little accepting dance of acceptability is made by those already settled with cigars around the fender. …the are more capable of looking embarrassed than any bird I have seen. So polite is this world, in fact, that most of its members seem struck dumb by their sense of propriety.…If puffins and gannets are from different worlds, the shags are from another universe. Nothing can really prepare you for the reality of the shag experience. It is an all-power meeting with an extraordinary, ancient, corrupt, imperial, angry, dirty, green-eyed, yellow-gaped, oil-skinned, iridescent, rancid, rock-hole glory that is Phalacrocorax aristotlelis. They are scandal and poetry, chaos and individual rage, archaic, ancient beyond any sense of ancientness that other birds might convey. …There’s a fluster of rage, resentment, and clumsiness as the big, black webbed feet stomp around the sticky, white, guanoed mayhem of kelp stalks and wrack branches that is its nest, in the back of which, creeping for the shadows, you see the couple of young, half-formed embryonic creatures, shag chicks, rat-birds, serpentine, leathery, hideous.Nicholson has a facility of slipping about the timescales as his perception of the here and now reveals how small we are in the life of this realm. For example, the oldest fossils of shags are pegged at 60 million years, which was not long after the dinosaurs met their cataclysmic extinction and ichthyosaurs still swam the seas. Eventually the strange architecture of headlands of soaring dolomite columns sets him to pursuing knowledge of the geological history of the islands and shares his delights in how the frozen conformation is rendered into dynamic flux of magma flows and foldings in the minds of geologists who visit him there. The mysteries of old foundations and walls on his tours of his land sets him to dwelling on the human communities who dwelled like him back into in the mists of historical time and the vast pre-historical periods. Nicholson give up his precious isolation to invite some archeologists to come do some digs, and their discoveries at Stone Age, Iron Age, and Medieval sites helps him with a more informed imagining of what life was like there.The middens (i.e. garbage piles) dug up at different sites on the Shiants reveal evidence of times of famine, as indicated by concentrations of limpet shells, a meal of last resort. Some modeling of available land resources for gardening versus grazing of sheep and cattle suggests that only a handful of families could ever be sustained on the island and that overpopulation with occupation by as few as 40 humans could tip the balance toward disaster and starvation. I got the same sense of human adaptability and risks of life on the edge from Jared Diamond’s inquiries into the Viking settlement of Greenland for three centuries in his “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.” A particularly old artefact pulled off the bottom of the sea off the Shiants is a Bronze Age necklace or armband known as a torc, which is elegant in the simplicity of twisted and fluted dual bands. He imagines it cast into the sea as a tribute to the unknown forces at the edge of the known world. Nicholson also tracks references to a visit of a prominent Roman to a resident in the Shiants Other records indicate mystics hung out there, including early Christians. The Vikings in their sojourns gifted their names to many headland and inlets. The Hebrideans harbored a large population of Catholics, much oppressed over long time periods. Nicholson finds in his house a Medieval gravestone with a carved cross within a circle being used as a hearthstone by the later house builder. But the cross was hidden on flip side, suggesting resolute defiance of persecution. Over the centuries, political rebels sometimes hid out on the Shiants, as apparently did pirates. Murderous clans vied for territory in the Hebrides, occasionally wiping out a whole family. Gaelic names of various geographical sites on the island appear to reflect historical events of tragedy and mystery later blown up in oral tradition to mythical or miraculous proportions. The name Shiants means hallowed or blessed from one angle, haunted from another. Consistent with that he finds in history excursions much evidence of priests and reclusive saints who found spiritual refuge on remote Hebridean outposts like this, as well as records of myths about magical or evil presences. Despite these extremes, the archeological evidence points to residence in the Shiants mostly by ordinary farmers for many generations into the 16th century. By the 17th century, feudal lords and aristocratic landowners cleared off most of their peasant tenants from many properties in the Hebrides and used their estates for summer leisure activities. Island like the Shiants changed from being places that were “empty and difficult for the Hebrideans” into sites that “became beautiful and empty for outsiders.” One exception was one landowner of the Campbell clan who resided on the Shiants with his family in the 1860s, commuting as needed to Harris or the mainland by boat and receiving suitors to his fair daughters by boat. Through most the 18th and 19th centuries, the Shiants largely became a site for temporary sheep grazing and fishing stations. Nicholson kept the tradition of his father and predecessors of allowing sheep herders access to grazing on the island. In a particularly fun section, he details his participation with the shepherds in the fascinating and exhausting work of driving the sheep form many a rough spot to a beach and loading them on a barge to move them from one island to another. One reason Nicholson’s account of this rocky place on the Atlantic appeals to me is because I feel the northeast coast of Maine where I live is like its mirror image, split from the British islands by ancient shifts of the tectonic plates. I am especially fond of hiking high cliffs facing the stormy sea, and I marvel at the endurance of fishermen and admire a man a few miles down the peninsula who tends a flock of sheep. Not so long ago, sheep were similarly transported to small uninhabited islands for grazing. We have one island offshore of my town where puffins thrive, though nothing like the hundreds of thousands that nest in the Shiants. We have a lot of eagles and ospreys, yet I had to go north into New Brunswick to experience soaring gannets and their plummeting and deep dives into the sea for mackerel. Nicholson’s account of sea eagles, collosal and majestic, nesting on the Shiants in earlier centuries and signs of their return in recent years was uplifting for me.At times it can seem he is making mountains out of molehills, at others on the trail of wisdom expressed in the Leonard Cohen line, “We are so small between the stars, so large against the sky.” In the following example I find a useful outlook, while others may see purple patch: Islands are made larger, paradoxically, by the scale of the sea that surrounds them. the element which might reduce them. … has the opposite effect. The sea elevates a few acres into something that could never be if hidden in the mass of the mainland. The sea makes islands significant …they are not-sea within the sea, standing against the sea’s chaos and massive power, but framed by it, enlightened by it. In that way every island is an assertion in an ocean of denials, the one positive gesture against an almost overwhelming bleakness. …The state of siege and an island, in short, is life set against death, a life defined by the death that surrounds it.This combination of lyrical immersion in an austere but rich environment, explorations of a special ecology, and speculation on human affinities for remote island life conforms a subgenre of non-fiction I admire which could be called “Biography of Place.” Among the couple of dozen books I voted for on the Listopia list for this category, are two I loved by Tim Robinson which are the most similar in scope and style to this one (“Connemara” and “The Stones of Arran”). I look forward to reading Nicholson’s recent book on sea birds, as well as his book on Homer.

  • Ashley Thomas
    2019-05-02 19:03

    A disclaimer: I bought this book in a tiny bookstore/post office while on a trip to the Isle of Skye off the Northwest coast of Scotland, and read the first few chapters while sitting on a log at the edge of the tiny harbor in Port Righ just before sunset. So I might be a little biased as to its quality or significance.If you've never had a chance to travel to the outer islands off the coast of Scotland, then you should most definitely read this book. It does for the Hebrides what Frances Mayes' books have done for Tuscany - only it includes a lot less people and a lot more sheep, puffins and seals.There is something undeniably haunting about the Scottish isles. The extremes of weather and situation that exist there make life an endless struggle, and as Nicolson notes in his book many of the islands are now uninhabited for that very reason. The book spends quite a bit of time on the history of the islands and the various groups of people and animals who have attempted to sustain life there (Nicolson is a historian so he's in his element here). Yet, to me, the book's best moments are found in the descriptions of the islands themselves and their wild austerity. If you ever do have the chance to visit the islands off the coast of Scotland, you'll see what Nicolson means when he discusses the fascination and repulsion they generate. They're so breathtakingly beautiful that you feel you must experience life among them, but they offer little softness or respite to those who make the attempt. This is a great book to read while traveling - and take my word for it, if you ever actually visit the islands you should most definitely take this along and read it while in the background fishermen shout to each other in Gaelic as they dock their boats for the night.

  • Bettie☯
    2019-05-18 16:57

    (view spoiler)[ Bettie's Books (hide spoiler)]

  • Ron
    2019-05-07 18:17

    Ah, what a fine book this is. Reading it is like spending time with a new friend. Nicholson has a sharp and curious mind and a generous spirit. You may not think you can be much interested in a group of three little islands in the Outer Hebrides - the Shiants - their climate, wildlife, prehistory, geology, archeology, socio-economics, agriculture, shepherding, folk literature, the sea currents around them, and the host of other topics covered in this book, but Nicholson draws you in. Soon you are immersed in whatever there is to be known about what amounts to less than a square mile of rock, cliffs, beach, and meadow.The book is organized around the turn of the year, beginning with Nicholson's first journey to the islands in his own boat in the spring, and ending with the first gusty wet weather of autumn, as he sits at the window in a two-room cottage writing. Into this annual cycle he interweaves story upon story, often speculative, of how the islands came to be, how they came to be what they are, and the people over thousands of years who have lived here.As the year passes, Nicholson sketches in the broad sweep of recorded history from St. Columba to the present, noting the several hands through which the islands have passed, including his father's and his own. A team of archeologists identifies the remains of Iron and Bronze Age settlements and spends a summer uncovering a long abandoned farmstead. The discovery of a buried cobblestone with an ancient inscription sends him on one of many attempts to unravel mysteries that he uncovers.The book is based on considerable research, and Nicholson pieces together a previously unwritten history of the islands with references drawn from many old documents and interviews with historians and other experts. He helpfully illustrates his text with many photographs, drawings, and maps.This book is for anyone who feels the magical pull of islands. You will not regard them quite the same way again.

  • Helen
    2019-04-25 17:04

    Loved this: Adam Nicolson inherited the Shiant Islands in the Hebrides from his father Nigel Nicolson at the age of 21, bought at the behest of Nigel's mother Vita Sackville-West. The islands had long been uninhabited, although there is a usable house there, and life there is pretty primitive (rats, no toilets). This is not quite what you imagine the holiday home of a Bloomsberry to be, in other words. Adam Nicolson is sensitive to all the possible accusations of being a posh English landowner with a plaything, meets them all head on, and provides here what must be a definitive history of the islands, every aspect of them. Fantastic.

  • Amanda Brookfield
    2019-05-09 15:18

    Amanda Brookfield's Reviews > Sea Room: An Island Life in the HebridesSea Room by Adam NicolsonSea Room: An Island Life in the Hebrides by Adam Nicolson 25327464Amanda Brookfield's review Jul 24, 14 · edit5 of 5 starsRead from June 30 to July 24, 2014This is not my usual type of read. Memoirs-style descriptions of remote Scottish islands, the Shiants, populated by puffins,rats and, sometimes sheep, which have to be transported to and from the mainland by boat....nope, not my bag at all. But a friend recommended it to me. A good friend, one of those whose tastes you can trust absolutely. I was out of my comfort zone a lot of the time. It meant I had to concentrate, a bit like when one is trying a new - and scary - type of food. This was made easy however by Adam Nicolson's mesmeric and powerful narrative style. He writes like a poet, with an extraordinary eye for ordinary detail and a lyrical, natural turn of phrase that draws you in. I like books that tell stories. In the case of An Island Life the 'story' operates on two levels. First there is the fascinating history of the islands themselves, which Nicolson tracks back over the centuries, deploying the skills of a forensic scientist as well as a poet in the process. Then there is the account of what the islands have meant to his own family, legal owners for a hundred years. Bequeathed to him by his father when he was twenty one, Adam Nicolson is fast approaching the same milestone with his own son. It is a poignant tradition, plainly not about the handing on of an 'asset' so much as granting the next generation privileged access - the opportunity to connect with and learn from a small, beautiful and truly wild part of the world.I could not envisage managing the journey, let alone the harsh existence on the Shiants islands myself, but thanks to Adam Nicolson I feel I have been there anyway. But that's what a good book does: takes you somewhere other, and then brings you safely home.

  • Liz Gray
    2019-05-23 19:03

    Nicolson's book is a well-researched and heartfelt homage to the Shiants, three tiny islands in the Outer Hebrides that were purchased in 1937 by his father. He reconstructs the history of the islands using the few artifacts found there, with a particular focus on the lives of the various tenant farmers and shepherds who occupied them over the centuries. My favorite parts of the book, however, are his poetic descriptions of the flora, fauna and geology of the Shiants. I read the first half of the book while visiting Lewis and Harris this past spring, the hazy outlines of the islands visible from the house where I stayed; reading the second half in my suburban home outside Boston brought me right back to the desolate and captivating beauty of the Hebridean landscape.

  • Donna
    2019-05-02 20:49

    Memorable book! Among the best I've ever read. Engagingly written and endlessly fascinating. Learning the Shiants had evidence of homes as early as 1000 led me to learn more about sea travel in the North Atlantic in the 800s and 900s and that led to learning the difference between Vikings and Norse and that led to an interest in Viking ships/boats...and so it goes.Loved his connection to this bit of land he owned and his desire to learn more about all its inhabitants over time.So happy I read this book.

  • Jos
    2019-05-07 22:06

    Sea Room is partly a memoir, partly a travel book, partly science and partly a novel. Adam Nicolson wrote this book as the owner of the Shiants, three small isles East of Lewis. The book is the closure of his Shiant account. He was given them at the age of 20 from his father and now prepares for passing them on to his son Tom (which has happened in the mean time).Most chapters could be read for themselves with each of them addressing one perspective on the Shiants. There’s a section about geology, another about history, bird and sea life get their due. Previous owners, the history of the isles, incidents but also personal stories of Nicolson get a room in this book.The book is best when Nicolson draws vivid miniatures of the rough life the former inhabitants of the Shiants were faced with. Even at best of times it was a life on subsistence level. The isles never provided more than the simple means to survive. With modern times came the exodus for a better living. The last permanent inhabitants left in the 19th century. Since then, they are mostly used to graze sheep and occasionally as a refuge for the author and friends from spring to autumn. Less interesting are the scientific chapters. Nicolson made it a principle to call in all kinds of professors and students for research. A flock of government-paid scientists more than willingly accepted the chance to get a paid adventure holiday on a remote Hebrides island, researching life on the fringes of society. Except for bird life which is exceptionally rich, nothing of significance exists on the Shiants which would have justified the waste of research resources.Sea Room got me thinking about my own affinity for traveling to islands. Islands give the chance to experience something in total. Everything on it can be included, everything outside is excluded. The rare case of having mastered something completely which is an experience mostly missed in daily life. Nicolson is a master in Shiantology. Every nook and cranny gets its place, all possible facets are addressed. An enviable experience, notwithstanding the still rudimentary level of recreative living on the Shiants today, without electricity or running water. Never before did I know so much about a place so irrelevant and remote. Compared to the Shiants, my own travels to the remote areas of Iceland, New Zealand and Tasmania look like a stroll on Broadway.I liked Sea Room but at times was disappointed as well. It’s a mixed bag that would have benefitted from a bit less completeness and a bit more focus on people and life with nature.

  • Catherine
    2019-05-15 23:18

    3.5 starsThere were places where I really liked this book, and they were in some of Adam's descriptions of the islands and the peoples. His love of the Shiants is clear. However, I was thrown off a little by his conversational style. Two lines into a story about someone or something and Adam would veer off into an aside that sometimes felt longer than the story itself. It made the narrative a little choppy.I found my attention wandering a little throughout and I am not sure if I was in the mood to read this book when I began it. Unfortunately for me and the book, I was reading from a library loan so I could not afford to put it to one side a return to it when I felt like it.

  • Karen
    2019-04-23 17:51

    Author Adam Nicolson has been the only writer I've contacted to say how much I loved his book. I didn't expect an answer in return, but he is a lovely, humble man and we had a short bit of back and forth. This book is about a small, uninhabited island off Scotland that the author inherited. His account is rich with information: the island's ecology, weather, ancient history, sporadic inhabitants, etc. A wonderful book for the armchair traveler, about a very isolated and rather bleakly romantic locale.

  • Nick
    2019-05-12 14:57

    Just a lovely and interesting book about three small islands west of Scotland--their wildlife, their geography and geology, their history. A beautiful book about an isolated place that ranges through archeology, natural history, human history, literature and family memory. Read it slowly, savor it.

  • Paul
    2019-04-23 15:15

    Superb Book

  • Codex
    2019-04-29 21:02

    This book will not appeal to everyone. What one gets out of it will depend entirely on what one expects. I found both good parts and bad; some excellent, some encumbered, and some quite boring. But the book has a place and it has a story to tell. It captures factual information about a remote and basically severe place, of extremes that most people will never encounter—and therein lies its primary value: affording opportunity to expand awareness—albeit indirectly—where otherwise there would be none. One can hardly come away empty-handed.Throughout this text is a singular tale of direct and very intimate connection with these remote islands that speaks of much more than mere ownership. It speaks of an intense and lasting bond with place, of a reverence that transcends words.Quotes:“The bird teeters, like most of the auks, on the borders of flightlessness. You see a puffin taking off from the sea, and it is a desperate business, a grinding attempt to get airborne, to get up the speed at which those those wing-fins will work. [. . .] Once going, a puffin can fly fast, up to sixty miles an hour, but then the landing can be difficult, less a controlled jump jet settling into place than a managed crash, after which there is a lot of head-shaking and shoulder ruffling by which coherence is re-established and dignity restored.”“ . . . that sense of robustness, of a marvellously mature and adult approach to risk, with all the elasticity of response that it implies, is, I think, one of the reasons that the spectacle of the summer birds is so stimulating. This life-phenomenon is not sweet, in the way that puffins are often portrayed. Nor is it heroically violent, in the way that nature is often seen. It is a wonderfully sober, serious and ingenious response to the problems and challenges of a sea and island life.”“I know three things about eagles. Their eyes, in whose retinas the rods and cones are packed many times more tightly than our own, have a resolution eight times better than ours. They live in a world of visual intensity whose nature we cannot, quite literally, even dream of. It is said that an eagle can see a shrew twitch in the grass from three thousand feet above it. And, thirdly, if our eyes occupied the same proportion of our skull as the eagle’s eyes do of his, they would be the size of oranges.”“If it is true to say that you can’t remember time, only the places in which time occurred, then I think you could say that the bulk of these enormous [four-feet-thick blackhouse] walls is a type of time sponge, deeply absorbent of the moment passing, sucking up lives as they happened, holding events as if in a vast memory bank. Standing in the house after the archaeologists had left, and listening to the lark still singing above me, I could feel that these stones, and by extension these islands, continue to hold the memories of the life that was lived in them a quarter of a millennium ago.”“Drops of rain hang on the blades of grass sprouting from their walls [abandoned buildings on Eilean an Tighe]. One of them is flooded. Rushes and flag irises grow inside its single room like a salad in a bowl.”“The time I have had on the Shiants is coming to an end. I know the islands now more than I have ever known them, more in a way than anyone has ever known them, and as I sit here in the house I have a feeling, for a moment, of completeness and gratitude. My love affair with these islands is reaching its full term.”

  • Dominique Kyle
    2019-05-03 17:50

    Sea RoomAdam NicolsonThe tagline on the book sums it up. One man, three islands and half a million puffins.Imagine this – as you draw close across the sea from the Outer Hebrides to the Shiant Islands which have been mystically rising out of the mist for several hours now – you see a cloud of bees coming and going from a hive – or so it seems – backwards and forwards – a constant swirling swarm. And then beside you on the waves a fat little black and white bird with a multi-coloured beak stuffed with tiny fish suddenly becomes aware of your approach and tries to take off but is so un-aerodynamic that it can’t make it off the surface, its little stubby wings flapping, its spade-like bright orange feet trailing, it slaps face first into first one wave and then the next and then thinks ‘blow this for a game of soldiers’ and dives instead, deep under, and you wait but it doesn’t appear again. And ahead of you the sound increases like a thousand pairs of rubber washing up gloves being flapped together, or someone riffling through the pages of a book, over and over again, and then you realise that the bees are thousands of birds. Puffins, razorbills, guillemots. And the sound of their cries become deafening. And all around you birds dive and black and white ghosts flit through the green under your boat between the pulsing mauve and pink translucent jellyfish.This book is wonderful. But not nearly as wonderful as the Shiant islands themselves. Get thyself there. Or failing that, if you’re interested in the lives of remote communities, birdlife, or the sea, read this book.

  • Harold Rhenisch
    2019-05-06 15:53

    If you've ever loved the land or the water, especially a hunk of land and water in the north, this is the book for you. I wanted to pack up all my things and move to the Hebrides tomorrow. This combination of deep history, which comes from living in a place, lush yet precise language, and old knowledge lived intimately in a place (and discovered from it) is a treasure. I fell in love with Iceland like this, without any books to guide my way, and when I read this one I knew I was still home, deep in the earth. And what is a sea room? Ah, that is the most special thing. Patrick Leigh Fermor has been called the best writer of prose in the language. So has Naipaul. Well, Nicolson is in the same league.

  • Jeneba Charkey
    2019-05-03 21:55

    This is a beautiful love song to the Shiant Islands, written in a meditative poetic voice. All the minutiae of daily life on the islands, their natural history, their human history, the splendor and the filth - it is all here in this brilliant book.

  • Patrick Carroll
    2019-05-11 15:49

    I found this book inconsistent, some sections were really interesting but some diversions simply failed to hold my interest. I did find the initial self-justification a bit irritating because this is ultimately a "rich man owns islands" book and whilst there is a lot of excellent prose and diversions into the local history there was always little "socialist" voice in my head saying "He just traveled up from London for the summer". Whilst I appreciate the whole "authentic" sailing boat thing I rather think the locals are using highly powered metal skiffs and ribs to eek a living from the sea and land - but it's all so romantic.Adam Nicholson is a very good writer, some truly lovely prose but I didn't warm to the author.

  • Jennifer Barclay
    2019-05-01 19:54

    Goodreads just reminded me that I started reading this book 90 days ago and I am, unbelievably, still reading it. I thought this was a good point, therefore, to write a review. I was excited to find this book and read the beginning because it resonated so much with me, living as I do on a tiny, wild island. The author compares the Shiants to Greek islands, in fact. In places, I think this is beautifully written and very interesting. In other places I am frustrated as the author speculates over and over about things he merely imagines may be true about the islands. But I haven't finished it yet.

  • Rich
    2019-05-04 23:05

    Really dull in places, but tempered by some lovely writing about the island and some historical framing.

  • Nina Ive
    2019-05-05 15:06

    It's a slow read, but worth it. A bit of escapism in the most real sense of the word

  • Jessica
    2019-05-19 16:51

    Nicolson's epic love letter to a trio of Scottish islands. Touching.

  • Beatrice Otto
    2019-05-14 21:52

    Sea Room is a lyrical, thoughtful meditation on our relationship to place, to the wild, to islands and the sea, and on life strategies, human and otherwise. ‘Sea room’ is a sailing term Nicolson uses to mean ‘the sense of enlargement that island life can give you’, and spending time on the islands is like surrounding yourself with an ocean of possibility, open horizons and expansiveness. But also resilience and ingenuity despite bad weather and dangerous seas; the island as a metaphor for life fighting to survive against the odds.Having inherited, at the age of 21, the Shiants, three small islands east of the Outer Hebrides, Nicolson wrote this book as ‘a love letter to them’ before handing them over to his son. He describes them as ‘the most powerful absence I know’, an apparently bleak and uninhabited example of the lifelong hold a place can have on people.For a full review including a rich and illustrated mosaic of quotations and metaphors, please see:

  • Alex
    2019-04-28 23:04

    This book was too things: wonderful, and far, far too long. So long that the structure 0 which proceeded fairly straightforwardly through Nicolson's history with the islands and then the islands history, from prehistoric times to the present, frequently got lost in the many, many diversions and too long anecdotes. What also got lost in the masses of stories and information were the flashes of genuinely beautiful writing, which did pop up now and again. If this 400 page book was 250 pages, I probably would have given in 5 stars. But it just kept going.

  • Vanessa Innes-Wagstaff
    2019-05-10 18:13

    Amazing to make book about such a barren place, but Nicolson manages it and makes it readable. But again, I wouldn't re-read it, but it's definitely worth the effort, out of curiosity apart from anything else. And in spite of all the Sackville-West fame of his family, he is in aristocratic terms, a 'Nicolson', and clan chief of Nicolson, so a book about Scotland makes some sense. Perhaps he could consider more histories on Scotland.

  • Ruth Brumby
    2019-05-23 22:01

    Despite some alarming sexism in reporting and not commenting on unpleasant remarks and attitudes, I loved this book for its beautiful precise prose and for Adam Nicolson's interest in finding out about geology, wildlife and history. It is a book about all aspects of a place and is generally thoughtful and honest and made me think about people and how they live in the world.

  • Lorri Devlin
    2019-05-05 15:05

    An intricate and detailed account of a British landowner's love affair with the islands his family purchased. At times the prose is dense and difficult to wade through, but overall, the book gave me what I was after- a vivid portrayal of a place I hope to visit one day.

  • Hans Wiegand
    2019-04-23 14:50

    Ever thought of going to the outer Hebrides? Read this book first!

  • Jane Petley-Jones
    2019-04-23 15:50

    A great read. Some wonderful evocations of the wildlife and islands. Quite moving historical portrait of the history of life on the islands and how it all came to an end.Well worth it.

  • Katharine Harding
    2019-05-13 21:08

    Very beautiful. Loved this.