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Sea Room: An Island Life in the Hebrides Paperback – August 14, 2007


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

For his 21st birthday, Nicolson's father gave him some islands among the Scottish Outer Hebrides, 600 acres worth of land that the elder Nicolson had purchased on a whim in 1937. At various times, the Sussex-based writer recalls, the Shiant islands "have been the most important thing in my life," and he has produced a vivid, meticulously researched paean to his "heartland," examining its geology, its flora and fauna, and its history as he reminisces about his own idylls there. The islands, now uninhabited except by the Nicolsons, are outcroppings of grass and rock and stark black cliffs, surrounded by churning waters that are notoriously difficult to negotiate. Until 1901, they were continuously inhabited for thousands of years by an eighth-century hermit, medieval farmers, Irish Jacobite rebels and others documented by Nicolson. The islands are also an important breeding station for birds, and Nicolson observes the comings and goings of geese, puffins and razorbills. Throughout the book, Nicolson explores the troubling idea of ownership; Hebrideans view English landowners with a mix of resentment and derision, and Nicolson acknowledges that his rights to the islands, like those of previous landlords, are morally ambiguous. His mix of scholarship, reflection and lyrical description brings his beloved atolls to life, and the genre-bending book should win some fans among those interested in nature writing and memoir.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Nicolson has what most can only dream of: his own island. Actually, the property consists of three remote Scottish islands, the Shiants, located in the Hebrides and purchased by Nicolson's father through a 1937 newspaper advertisement. The grandson of Vita Sackville-West, Nicolson, who was given the islands with their cliffs, sheep, rats, and birds on his 21st birthday by his father, has written Sea Room as a self-proclaimed "love letter" that captures the character of the place. More intellectually weighty than most travel narratives, Nicolson's book offers as much information about the geological origins of the islands, the seasonal details of the flora and fauna, and the melding of Norse language into the culture as it does about the author's solitary boat rides and peaceful beachcombing adventures. The comprehensive bibliography and index indicate a love and knowledge of the island that goes well beyond that of an occasional visitor or tourist. Nicolson is the islands' resident historian and scientist, and as he prepares to give the islands to his own son, he can do so knowing that his gift is not merely sentimental but substantive. Recommended for all travel collections. Mari Flynn, Keystone Coll., La Plume, PA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Revised edition (August 14, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061238821
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061238826
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #91,468 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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It is all described with a passionate attention to detail.
R. Hardy
A discursive socio-historical part family memoir of the writer's love affair with the Shiant Islands.
JSC Siow
I bought this book to indulge my interest in Scotland's islands, and found that, and much more.
Celestial Abyss

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 25, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"She wanted to leave. She was unable to see the point in being out on a shelterless rock in a meaningless sea, under a muffled grey sky, where there are no loos and no baths, where there is not even a little copse or spinney in which one can sit down and read, where the house itself is little better than a shed, where the wind blows and blows and where your husband is for some reason obsessed with every fact and detail of this godforsaken nowhere."
Such is the enthusiasm for the Shiant Isles exhibited by the wife of Adam Nicolson, author of SEA ROOM. Adam is owner of these roughly six hundred acres distributed over three wave and wind ravaged islands in the Minch, that stretch of ocean lying between the Scottish island of Skye and the Outer Hebrides. Adam had inherited them from his father, who purchased them in 1937.
The author does indeed examine every fact and detail that can be known or surmised about this edge on civilization's margin: the art of getting there by small boat, the migratory bird life, its human history as revealed by archeology and public records, its geology, its successive native industries over the centuries (farming, fishing, kelping, sheepherding), and its weather. Occasionally, there's unintended humor, as when he describes the labors involved in transferring some cattle off the island by coastal steamer:
"The men waited below (the steamer) in the dinghy as the poor beast was lifted by its horns high into the air, bellowing at the indignity and with fear. Just as the animal was high above the gunwale, the men in the dinghy guiding it in by the tail, the bullock emptied the entire contents of its four stomachs over the men below. That was the last time any cattle were seen on the Shiants.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By D. Archibald on January 7, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is kind of a scattershot book, but interesting and fun to read for all that. Mr. Nicolson is the aristocrat-author owner of the Shiant (pronounced 'shant') Islands in the inner part of the Outer Hebrides, and he wrote the book as a 'love letter' to them. In it he takes up geology, archaeology, history, genealogy, biology, ecology and ornithology, and also considers boat building, shepherding, fishing, folklore and the tragedy of the commons, all in an effort to explain and share his love for the islands; which task, in the end, he manages pretty well.
The book is roughly structured around a year in the life of the Shiants, but Nicolson doesn't let this stop him from ranging wherever his desire leads; which means that while it isn't exactly a page-turner when looked at as a whole, each section is entirely coherent and quite compelling, and the overall structure means they flow into one another reasonably enough. The biggest portion of the book is given over to archaeology, shading into speculative (in the good sense, as practiced by Farley Mowat) history. Nicolson a exhibits strong desire to recreate for his readers the lives of his islands' earlier inhabitants, which also leads him to examine more recent history. Here and there he leans towards overly romanticizing the lives of the islanders, but on the whole he does a wonderful job of conveying the realities of their existence: most strikingly in his account of Campbell family, who lived on the Shiants in the mid-19th century. He also throws in a fair amount of what might be called tangential information--his description of shepherding on the islands and his scale of the edibility of birds eggs were particularly good--which together combines to create a fair picture of the islands; or, at least, the islands as he sees them.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Marcia Diorio on September 18, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I feared that I would never manage my dream of living in a remote part of the Outer Hebrides, and then there was "Sea Room." With warmth and tremendous art, Adam Nicolson conveys every sight, every sound, every feeling, and provides facts and insights into every conceivable aspect of this estimable ancient place. His exceptional sensiblilties and his evident passion for full knowledge have led him to tell us not only about the Shiants, but also about ship building (past and present), sailing and seafaring, Gaelic as well as Norse languages, with plenty of legends, folk lore, music and poetry, geology, ornithology - he never stops, never holds back. And the best part is, it feels like reading a long, delightful letter from you dearest friend.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on July 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Adam Nicolson has invited us to his little islands of the Hebrides, the Shiants, in a fine book, _Sea Room: An Island Life in the Hebrides_ (North Point Press). He writes: "I love the Shiants for all their ragged, harsh and delicate glory and this book is a love letter to them." It is one of the most persuasive love letters ever written. He knows the islands better than anyone ever has, and has conveyed what he knows in one fascinating chapter after another. There is plenty of intense pleasure he conveys about living on the islands themselves, but his love is not blind; within the pages about his season here are also large quantities of battering waves, rain, cold, inconvenience, and the droppings of rats and sheep. It is all described with a passionate attention to detail. He writes lovingly of other people, like the boatwright who builds him a Viking-inspired sailboat in which he can commute the 16 miles to his island, or the friends he visits on the mainland who insist on cleaning his clothes and his person when he visits, or even the local press that caricatures him as a bowler-wearing aristocrat supremely out of place.
For further details on his islands, he has enlisted the help of various experts. For instance, from Czechoslovakia comes a team of archeologists to study one of the ruined houses on the islands. When they find a carve stone, he trucks it all over the British Isles, so that we get to learn the geology of the stone, the philosophy of hermits a millennium ago, and how such a stone might do for either a grave marker or a pillow.
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