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Sightlines - Book of the Month

by Kathleen Jamie

Whether it’s describing the minutiae of a moth’s wing or the majesty of the moon, Kathleen Jamie’s writing will transport you. This mesmerising new collection of fourteen essays takes the reader to the northernmost parts of Scotland; to the Hvalsalen Museum in Bergen; a trip to see the northern lights in Greenland and recounts the author’s musings on the moon, the wind, light.

In The Woman in the Field we’re introduced to a teenage Kathleen on an archaeological dig, in “a duffel coat, suede boots, flared jeans that soaked up the wet”, already fascinated by the natural world and our place in it, an enduring fascination, thank goodness, in which she shares her awareness through these wonderful essays. Kathleen Jamie is a poet and poetry permeates her prose, peppered with lovely Scottish words, onomatopoeic words, such as smirr; gurly; scoosh; swithering... Take, for instance, this sentence in The Gannetry: “Tonight there would be no dark, only an hour or two of ‘simmer dim’ as the Shetland people say – a twilit stillness at midnight as though the sun were holding its breath.”

In The Hvalsalen, she beautifully describes sitting inside the chest cavity of a sei whale while helping conservators clean it. Or, on describing the skeleton of a blue whale: “You could sit within the blue whale and look back, following the spine with your eye as it voyaged above the hall, curving very slightly, continuing between the other whales, suspended every few yards by those chains and rods, until it tapered to an end far away. Then there would have been the tail, too, something the width of a small aircraft. Despite the size, you could, with a minimum of effort, extend your sense of self, and imagine this was your body moving through the ocean. You could begin to imagine what it might feel like, to be a blue whale.”

In Three Ways of Looking at St Kilda, she recounts a trio of trips (two abortive and one successful) to those remote islands, where the inhabitants lived the strangest of lives until 1930, subsisting on sheep and sea birds, whose every scrap was used for food, fuel or clothing – “gannets for shoes and garments stitched with feathers”. I can’t get the St Kildans out of my head.

I could go on all day about the beauty of this writing. I could tell you more about storm petrels and killer whale sightings off the island of Rona, or, as in Pathologies, examining a cancerous colon (“because nature isn’t all primroses and otters”) but I won’t. I’d just urge you to read this wonderful collection and become totally lost in the author’s flawless prose, her understanding of nature, and how we are connected to it.

Irene Haynes

Published by Sort Of Books – 242pp,

Read our interview with Kathleen Jamie.


Neil Banks
This has made me homesick for Scotland. I can't wait to read it. Thank you for the recommendation.

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