“The Lost Lights of St Kilda” by Elisabeth Gifford

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Thanks to Atlantic Books and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.  

I’ve always been fascinated by St Kilda and I think I probably own nearly every book ever published about it. I always thought that if I were ever to write a novel, it would probably be about St Kilda. 

For those unaware, St Kilda is a Scottish island in the Atlantic Ocean which had been continuously inhabited from the Bronze Age up until 1930 when the island was evacuated due to an irretrievable population crash and the logistical difficulty of getting necessary supplies to an island essentially cut off during the Winter. 

The book is historical fiction/romance following the story of Chrissy, Fred and Archie. Fred and Archie are Cambridge students summering on the island and Chrissy is a native St Kildan.  

The real strength of this novel are the descriptions of the island itself. The author did a really great job at capturing the unique geography such as the bay and the treacherous sea cliffs where the cragsmen gathered eggs. I also really liked the descriptions of the birdlife and the importance of the birds to the St Kildans for their survival. It did sometimes feel a little like the author was trying to get through a tick list of well know St Kildan things to mention. “Cleits”? Tick. “The Amazon’s House”? Tick. “Fulmar oil”? Tick. It’s not necessarily a bad thing I just found it a little contrived.

I wasn’t really into the main romance. I didn’t understand why Chrissy fell in love with Fred so quickly, or at all really. They didn’t have much chemistry, had almost nothing in common and they hardly even spoke to each other. Archie was also cartoonishly horrible at some points. I did enjoy the glimpses we got of the other St Kildans though and I think the author was able to capture some of their spirit.  

The account of the evacuation was genuinely moving, and the devastation of this event was sensitively captured. 

Fred’s story of making his way home part a bit of a snoozefest, probably because I didn’t really care about him as a character and didn’t really care what happened to him. Sorry Fred!  I would have liked some more scenes set in St Kilda as that’s where the book really shined. 

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