Orkney tells the haunting tale of an aging literature professor named Richard who, after a year of ‘unspoken courtship’, marries his former student, an unnamed silver-haired, waif-like young woman almost 40 years his junior. At the bride’s behest, the newlyweds journey north to spend their honeymoon on a windswept island in the Orkney archipelago. Against this lonely backdrop, with its restless weather and tumultuous sea, the line between love and obsession becomes blurred as Richard soon realizes how very little he knows about his enigmatic wife, who spends most of her waking hours sitting alone on the beach and whose dreams are always of the sea.
I think this is one of the most bewitching books I’ve read lately. Sackville’s writing is stunning and poetic, resembling a sort of dreamy fairytale set against an ever-shifting seascape that seems to change with the passing days, as Richard finds himself becoming more and more fixated on his young wife and the mystery of her. As the story is told from Richard’s perspective, we the readers only have his idealized portrait of her; a silver haired nymph of unearthly beauty.
My Lamia, a virgin purest lipped, and yet of love deep learned to the red heart’s core.
To him, she is every bewitching female character out of mythology and folklore, and because of this, like Richard, we never truly see past her otherworldliness, even as he tries to solve the mystery of her.
…I shall remain, Calypso’s willing captive on Ogygia, waiting upon my deity; and if I only stay at her side, she will keep me immortal. I am Circe’s happy pig on Aiaia; I have made it the Sirens’ shore and am happily stranded, drugged with love as with the Iotos, a slumbering, lumbering love, lolloping round the island, circling her, happily circumscribed.
Sackville’s prose doesn’t read too flowery or lush, though Richard waxes poetic on his wife for far longer than I would have cared for, but it did reveal the darker aspect of his love for her. I will admit; I predicted that ending even before I got halfway through the book. Take away the vague element of fantasy, and it would still be the result. I’m just sayin’.