After the world ends, only music and love will survive.
Visceral and raw – this is a grippingly beautiful story.
The story of 3 men and 9 boys who sail from their small community on St Kilda to the Warrior Stac to go fowling – hunting birds for meat, feathers and anything else that might be put to good use for the people on their island. The trip, which is entwined in the traditions and culture of the men from the community, becomes a challenge for survival for the group when their boat fails to return to the stac to bring them home.
The story focuses on Quilliam and his relationships with the other boys and men who accompany the party. After the boat fails to arrive, rumour spreads amongst the boys that the world has ended and the angels responsible for the holy rapture have somehow failed to collect the boys and men. Their imaginings run wild with thoughts of relatives and loved ones being lifted up to heaven and them remaining on an empty earth at the mercy of the leviathans and monsters of the deep ocean.
It is an incredible read. Geraldine McCaughrean’s uses some wonderful extended imagery and metaphor to bring alive the sense of desolation and despair on the island. However this is contrasted with characters who have real depth and warmth. There is a sense of the ethereal and mystical throughout the book with strange visitations of ghosts and spirits that both divide the group and bring friendships together. There is a sense of other-worldliness to the narrative as the boys are gripped with religious fervour seeking out omens and signs of hope in the natural world of the island and the surrounding ocean.
Quilliam is the main character and the narrative explores his relationship with the group. He takes on the role of sage and story-teller to the boys who rely on his philosophical outlook to make sense of the situation. He’s courageous and honourable with strong values that drive him to challenge the religious domination of dictatorial character of Cane. You become desperate for Quill to survive and find happiness because of his care for the other boys on the island. There are some heartbreakingly sad moments of loss and times where the fight for survival seem hopeless and forlorn.
I wasn’t sure I was going to like the book at the opening. I must learn to take more notice of the blurb because I looked at the front cover and guessed it would be an Enid Blyton style adventure set in Devon with a group of kids and a scruffy dog with an eye patch called Patchy. However there were no smugglers and no quaffing of ginger beer. There was darker, more beguiling story of survival. I wouldn’t recommend the story to younger readers but I think it would be a great class reader for year 6 children.
It’s also a beautifully designed book. It has a map at the beginning! It has a glossary at the end and a pictorial guide to seabirds. It’s clearly a well researched book and it is based on a true story. Facts about the island of St Kilda, Hirta and the story can be found here.
Like the seventh wave, this story and the writing has left me gasping. I need to wait for the sea to calm before wading into another book. Geraldine McCaughrean has left me reeling with her powerful, haunting story telling which will stay with me for a long time.