Writing a second novel is a grueling task, particularly when your first one was as well received as Sackville’s The Still Point. Sackville once more pulls the reader north, not the North Pole like before, but to Orkney where the stage is set for a married couple once more. Unlike the couple in The Still Point, Sackville does not use the stream of conscious technique which she mastered admirably, but instead, we have one protagonist and one set of thoughts, those of which belong to Richard. Richard is a sixty something academic who is typically hermit-like and utterly dedicated to his work as a teacher. One day as the story goes, a beautiful young woman is swept into his classroom and enchants our protagonist by her ethereal qualities. It’s not long before they marry and find themselves honeymooning in Orkney where his young wife was born and desires to return. The couple to the outsider is not a likely match, but they are in fact rather perfect; she is bursting with folk tales and he is fixated on mythological women for which she fits the bill perfectly, ‘She is a Protean, a Thetis, a daughter of the sea, a shape-shifting goddess who must be subdued…’ but of course he can’t no matter how hard he tries, and he knows this, deep down as he watches her from his window every day as she walks along the beach, drawn to the horizon. If she steps out of the neatly constructed frame from where he sits watching, he falls into a frenzied panic.
Orkney is uncannily like Iris Murdoch’s The Sea The Sea; both novels have a fascination with the sea, mythological creatures, love obsessions, self-obsessive behaviour, men who love to hear their own voices and a blindness to the actual world around them as they get lost in their own academic-smog. The entire narrative is made up of Richard’s pompous pontifications which are entertaining and perplexing all at once. It is his compulsive charting of his wife’s movements that force his wife further from our scope to the point that she’s not much of a participant although she’s made a focal point.
The story is cast under a great shadow of an impending storm of which we are reminded numerous times, this looming storm will surely unfold a momentous eruption, yet what does unfold is in fact rather obvious and not overly exciting in the end. Sackville’s writing has a beautiful poetic quality about it, there is no doubt about that, the only hiccup with this novel lays in the fact that it is hard to like anyone present within its pages. Richard is tedious and his wife is almost a cardboard cutout, yet her writing style is almost enchanting on its own enough. It will be interesting to see where Sackville goes from here.