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The Lost Lights of St Kilda by Elisabeth Gifford

Article by Swirl and Thread ©.
Posted in | .

‘He would be back soon, I felt it, for our love was a living thing, growing and breathing as surely as all the birds in the air.’

The Lost Lights of St Kilda by Elisabeth Gifford was just recently published with Corvus. Described as ‘a sweeping love story that will cross oceans and decades. It is a moving and deeply vivid portrait of two lovers, a desolate island, and the extraordinary power of hope in the face of darkness’.

Reading The Lost Lights of St Kilda is like stepping back into another world, a world where community was all that mattered and neighbour looked out for neighbour. An island located off the coast of Scotland, St. Kilda was completely evacuated in 1930 after the population was decimated following the First World War and the influenza virus. This transition from living in complete isolation to the mainland was a culture shock for the inhabitants for many reasons. Their sense of community was lost, their culture disappeared and families were separated, never to see each other again. In the years preceding 1930, visitors to the island were taken aback by the conditions and the poverty of the residents, writing newspaper/journal articles about the people and about their lifestyle. But this was their lives and this was all they knew.

When in school we had to study a book in Irish, entitled Peig, which was a book about an incredible woman, Peig Sayers, who lived off the coast of Kerry on The Blasket Islands. In her book she described the difficulties and the harshness of life on the island, a life that was so very far removed from the comforts of today’s society. The Blaskets, like St. Kilda, were evacuated in 1954 but the stories and the memories are passed on by generations, keeping the history and our past alive.

When reading The Lost Lights of St Kilda I was reminded of Peig Sayers and her life on The Blaskets and I was truly fascinated with the insights Elisabeth Gifford gave into a community struggling to keep it’s head up and to be proud of it’s culture.

The Lost Lights of St Kilda is ultimately a love story, the tale of Fred and Chrissie. Chrissie is a young woman living on St. Kilda with her family. Fred is a college student who comes to the island in 1927 to carry out a study for a college paper. Fred is initially shocked by the isolation and the conditions of the locals but over the course of a few weeks he comes to understand a little better the ways of the islanders and the wonderful sense of community that abides. He also falls in love with Chrissie.

When he leaves the island, before the weather makes the journey treacherous, Fred wasn’t to know that this would be his one and final journey to St. Kilda. The memory of Chrissie remains with him but his life takes a very different course, eventually ending up in a POW camp during the Second World War. Fred is a changed man, but Chrissie is still very much to the forefront of his mind.

Life in the POW camp is difficult and survival is very much of the fittest. Fred devises an escape plan that gets him outside the camp but a perilous journey awaits him. As he fights daily for his survival through very hazardous and dangerous conditions, one thought sustains him, Chrissie.

The Lost Lights of St Kilda is a novel that flows gently along, very rich in it’s descriptions of a people and a community. With a wonderful atmospheric, almost haunting depiction of the island, Elisabeth Gifford captures something very special indeed.

This is a novel to be slowly savoured, as you immerse yourself in the lives of Chrissie and Fred. The portrayal of the island and of Fred’s escape across Europe are all so very vivid. The cold, the fear, the sense of longing and loss are all very evident throughout but it is the love of Chrissie and Fred that completely captures the reader. A word spoken, an action taken can have far-reaching connotations but when the love is strong, there is always hope.

The Lost Lights of St Kilda is a mesmerising read, a poignant and emotive tale packed with wonderful imagery capturing a love that just would not die and a people whose lives were irrevocably changed on 29th August 1930.

A truly captivating and beautiful read….

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.