Finn is so excited. He is on his first voyage out with a crew of older seasoned fishermen.
“The boat was open from stem to stern, without shelter or Berth, but when they had eaten, they did what they could with the help of the sails and the soft bulk of the nets to get into a comfortable position for rest. Finn snuggled down, packed his hip bone, lifted the edge of the sail for breath, and prepared for sleep. But though he felt very tired, he was not sleepy. He was now more than ever pleased at having said things which had made the others laugh. His old shy self had opened, and to his surprise up the words had come…”
I began this book when I saw it on the “Read Scotland” forum on Goodreads. The author is new to me but I found his writing to be so atmospheric! “Silver Darlings” is crammed with not only authentic descriptions of life at sea but also engaging chapters about village life, a country fair, a perilous voyage (and a brave climb for water), and anecdotes about the fishing trade and professions (who knew what a curer was? not me.)
Neil Gunn brings the atmosphere and perils of the sea into this novel along with the growth of Finn, his coming-of-age time, and the trials of a small fishing community in Scotland. Finn’s father had been lost at sea (not telling you how; you will want to read this novel for yourself!) before Finn was even born. His mother was reluctant to allow Finn to even think of going to sea… but the sea was always calling to him.
“Listen, Finn. You mustn’t be angry with me. The sea has not been kind to me. And then – we have been living here, though it is not our croft, our home. I cannot do a man’s work, taking in new land. You and me – we are wanderers, who found a home.”
Although wordy at times the author gives the reader a lot to think about and not just pictures of what life in Scotland used to be for so many that were living on the edge of poverty. The readers is able to ‘get inside’ the characters’ thoughts, feelings and motivations, not just through dialog but through the ups and downs of life itself.
Finn’s mother Catrine is threatened with the plague; will she succumb? The reader cannot help being moved at poor Catrine’s plight already; losing her husband at such a young age, she lives for her son throughout the book.
At times the book moved very quickly because I was right there with Finn, hoping someday to become a sailor himself and obtain his very own ship.
“In fact, when Finn lifted his mind, he saw the clean green seas running, and knew that freedom was there, and adventure, and the song of man’s strength. He would be all right when he looked at the lifting stem of his own boat. Then would come upon him a freedom that would have in it the gait of revenge over all the cluttering doubts and anxieties of the earth.”
Finn and his companions are dogged and spunky and spend their days on the sea fighting the odds. Hoping the day’s catch would be a good one, hoping the sun would come out or the wind would rise so that Roddie, their captain (and for much of the book, Finn’s personal hero), could find their way back again.
“Silver Darlings” is a book about man against the sea; man versus his environment; man versus nature; man versus man (cruel landlords, greed, compulsory naval recruitment). But it is also a book about tenacity; the beauty of the world around us, sheer ‘holding on’ in the face of adversity, and hope.