The Valley at the Centre of the Worldby Published 03 May 2018
|The Valley at the Centre of the World.pdf|
|Publisher||Canongate Books Ltd.|
Set against the rugged west coast of Shetland, in a community faced with extinction, The Valley at the Centre of the World is a novel about love and grief, family and inheritance, rapid change and an age-old way of life. The exquisite debut novel from one of Scotland's most exciting new writers
'The thing he felt ending was not just one person, or even one generation; it was older, and had, in truth, been ending for a long time . . . It was a chain of stories clinging to stories, of love clinging to love. It was an inheritance he did not know how to pass on.'
Shetland: a place of sheep and soil, of harsh weather, close ties and an age-old way of life. A place where David has lived all his life, like his father and grandfather before him, but where he abides only in the present moment. A place where Sandy, a newcomer but already a crofter, may have finally found a home. A place that Alice has fled to after the death of her husband.
But times do change - island inhabitants die, or move away, and David worries that no young families will take over the chain of stories and care that this valley has always needed, while others wonder if it was ever truly theirs to join. In the wind and sun and storms from the Atlantic, these islanders must decide: what is left of us when the day's work is done, the children grown, and all our choices have been made?
The debut novel from one of our most exciting new literary voices, The Valley at the Centre of the World is a story about community and isolation, about what is passed down, and what is lost between the cracks.
"The Valley at the Centre of the World" Reviews
At the age of ten, Malachy Tallack moved to Shetland with his family. Now an award-winning singer-songwriter, journalist and author, he has written extensively about life in these remote islands. Tallack has also published two travel books : Sixty Degrees North: Around the World in Search of Home, an exploration of lands along the sixtieth parallel (which also crosses through the Shetland Isles) and The Un-Discovered Islands: An Archipelago of Myths and Mysteries, Phantoms and Fakes, about mythical islands once believed to be real. Valley at the Centre of the World is his first novel. Set in Shetland, it is a work of fiction but one shaped by the reality that Tallack knows so well.
Tallack emphasizes the sense of isolation by making his setting doubly insular – his protagonists are not only islanders, but the inhabitants of a valley distant from the comparative bustle of Lerwick. There’s old crofter David and his wife Mary. There’s Sandy – their daughter Emma’s ex-partner – who has stayed on in Shetland even as Emma has gone south to mainland Scotland. There’s crime-writer Alice, who has retired to this distant part of the world after prematurely losing her husband to cancer. There’s Ryan and Jo, a young couple who move in as tenants in one of the cottages owned by David. There’s Terry, battling the demons of alcoholism and family breakdown. And then there’s the memory of Maggie, once the valley’s oldest inhabitant, still inspiring affection and respect from beyond the grave.
In its portrayal of an isolated community and its handling of themes of identity and belonging, Valley at the Centre of the World reminded me of another novel I read recently – Ray Jacobsen’s The Unseen which is set in a remote Norwegian island. There is also a similarity in the approach to dialogue, the thick dialect of the Shetland Isles (David’s in particular) rendered phonetically to give readers a feel for its sound. Yet the novels are also very different. Jacobsen’s is more overtly (self-consciously?) literary in style, its purposely vague temporal setting giving the novel a timeless, fable-like feel. On the other hand, Tallack strives for authenticity, to the point of having one of his characters (Alice) work on a history of the valley – a convenient way of putting across information about the island without appearing artificial or pedantic.
Tallack’s novel is also clearly rooted in the present and expresses the challenges faced by young (and not-so-young) people who take the plunge and make a distant island the centre of their world. Indeed, the same care taken in the portrayal of the natural setting is dedicated to the development of character – we are given enough of the protagonists’ backstory to turn them into flesh-and-blood figures. And this is one of the book’s strong points – although it is a novel in which not much happens by way of plot, the dynamics between the different characters are strangely beguiling and by the end of the book, the protagonists feel like old friends.
This was such a brilliantly told story of the entwined lives of a group of people in a small valley on the Shetland Islands. Having just returned from the islands - I may be biased as to the amazingness of how well the author doesn't just take you to the valley, but you feel the dirt and salt air, you hear the sounds and dialect and you can sense the layers of story and meaning that is laid down in the physical earth. Each of the characters was drawn so well, it created the sense that you knew and understood them as people really deeply, in a way I've not been effected by for a long time. After reading this, I'm desperate to go back north.
A remarkable debut. I became so invested in these characters lives and their profound connections to their place in the world. Beautiful prose from a major new talent.
This was a Guardian Longlist NTB nomination and appealed to me chiefly due to the setting of the Shetland Islands. The story is a slice of Shetland life, more specifically in a farming valley of two or three houses. As an insight into the way of life it works well, but it is not plot driven, and I expect rather like the islands, has a slow pace to it.
Msg of the dialogue is written with the Shetland dialect or accent. Though there is a translation of key words given at the start of the novel, it’s never easy to follow.
Many will appreciate the window into rural Shetland life, but I didn’t find enough going on to hold my interest.
Shetland is a place of sheep, soil, harsh weather, close ties and an age-old wary life. It is a place in which David has lived all of his life and a place where Sandy and Alice may have found a home. The story tells the transition for a small valley in Shetland, as the death of the oldest inhabitant Maggie, causes the others to worry what the future may hold with few young members of the community.
I really enjoyed the depth of the description of the setting, with such beautiful scenery it made me feel as though I was there in the remote valley as I read the novel. The use of the Shetland dialect enhanced this and really brought the natural characters to life. However, I did find the glossary useful at points!
My only criticism is that there was little action in the book as it just considers people’s day-to-day lives. This makes an interesting and realistic story, but for me, it wasn’t overly engaging.
Breakaway Reviewers received a copy of the book to review.