Silver Darlings

Silver Darlings

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.

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About Theresa

I live in an old farmhouse in upstate New York (no, *not* the big city!) in the country with my family, two dogs, two calves, and two horses. I love to cross stitch, quilt, read, and look at needlework blogs :) and I love coffee *and* tea!
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6 Responses to Silver Darlings

  1. Allison M says:

    Oh this is a lovely post, don’t think I’ve read Neil Gunn since school, I chose to write about his books Sun Circle and Butcher’s Broom for SYS English (precursor to Advanced Higher in Scotland). I wonder if I still have any of his books because now I feel the need for some re-reading!

  2. Theresa says:

    Hi Allison! I had never read Neil Gunn so you are much more familiar with him than I am! His “Silver Darlings” really opened my eyes to the perils of life as a fisherman. It was slow moving at times but then it would really pick up with some suspenseful chapters!

    You must have really liked the author since you chose to do a paper on his writing : )

    • Allison M says:

      It has been a while since I was at school so I don’t feel all that familiar with his work! In all honesty I wanted to read his books and write about him for the simple reason that he was born in the same area as me, from the not-very-populated very north of mainland Scotland!

      • Theresa says:

        Have you read any of DE Stevenson? (lighter reads…) She set several of her books in Scotland. (Some are reprints on Amazon.) I would love to visit Scotland some day!

      • Allison M says:

        I’ve never read her books – I’ll check next time I’m in the library. So long as you can withstand rain and cold winds, you must visit here!

  3. Theresa says:

    I would love to visit : ) we just had over two feet of snow about ten days ago here, and still have a few snow piles melting in the yard… I’m not sure that we would get the amt. of rain Scotland gets but we do have pretty cold winter temperatures here!

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