"An Island Parish: A Summer on Scilly"
Reading history and reviews
Finished on 31st July 2010Based on a BBC TV programme (which I'd never heard of before), in this book Nigel Farrell paints a portrait of life on the Isles of Scilly (a group of islands about 30 miles off the coast of Cornwall) by interleaving the stories of daily life for some of the islands inhabitants with more major events - both tragic and upbeat - during his time there in 2004.
This was the closest thing to a guidebook to the Scillies that I could find in my local library before my own trip to the islands in July, and I'd read all but the last few chapters by the time I left. Obviously it doesn't really work as a guide to the places to see and things to do on the islands for the tourist; but having been there I think that it as good a guidebook as any for capturing the spirit of the islanders and conveying the realities of life there. (In fact there are some similarities with Hawaii, in that despite the apparent idyllic surroundings, the islanders have to work hard just to make a living - and those that can't almost inevitably end up having to go to the mainland.)
Farrell has an easy-to-read style and an eye for humourous details, which often lends a vaguely comic sense to the stories and makes it easy to forget that these are the lives of real people. Also - and perhaps tellingly - many of the people he focuses on are relative newcomers from the mainland, or like new island vet Heike from even further afield - and the other islanders are like bit-part characters. Maybe given the nature of island gossip maybe that's how many of them prefer it. Most of the time however he gets the balance about right though, and I think that reading it helped give me a flavour of what the islands would be like before my own trip - so I'd recommend it to anyone thinking about going there.