Beginning with the Isle of Man, the largest isle in the book and a partly independent country in its own right, he proceeds through the Scottish isles of South Ronaldsey, Barra and Eigg, before turning to the Irish Rathlin. We then read the sad tale of Alderney, the channel island used by the Nazis as a concentration camp, then the smaller St Martins in the Isles of Scilly before returning to the once inhabited Scottish isle of St Kilda and the sad account of its abandonment. The book finishes with Bardsey, the one time sacred isle off North Wales, before finishing with two uninhabited English islands off the south east coast of England.
Each of these ten islands is discussed in full, with its unique history given and its culture sympathetically presented. As a Briton, I realised from reading this book how little I knew of the Isle of Man, an island state only about a hundred miles from my home in North West England, and this book has gone some way to rectifying this deficiency in my knowledge.
The book gives material drawn from history, archaeology, geography, literature, politics science and religion. With my religious interests I was particularly interested in Bardsey, the Isle of Ten Thousand Saints, off the Welsh coast, guarded by fierce tides and currents, but still inhabited by a warden and his family and several hermit nuns. I was curious about the way in which places acquire a spirit, character of presence, which is perhaps the trace of the deeds done there. The book gave me some room for reflection on these matters, though answers are in short supply.
Islander makes us reflect on the negative effect of the dominant urban culture on more traditional local cultures and how the western economic system erases local identities and local cultures. Islander poses a challenge to us all as to how we respond to this erasure.
Reading the book led me to the conclusion that islands are interesting for the human events that happen on them. Even the two uninhabited isles at the end of the book have a human history whose traces linger within their shores. Without this history there would be some flora and fauna to discuss, but as these isles contain no unique species we need not say much. Humans make the world interesting to a great extent.
Islander is a well-written book that will give great pleasure to the thoughtful reader. It was a delightful Christmas presence from my second son. I read it all with delight and commend it to the reader.