The Lost Lights of St Kilda is the first book I have read by this author and having read it, I would definitely be keen to read more of her work. I was attracted to the book because it is set on St Kilda, a place I find fascinating. And this was indeed a fascinating read, with that atmospheric cover reflecting the story inside. Just before you read my review, have a look at this gorgeous short video promoting the book.
The book focuses on Cambridge student Fred Lawson who arrives in St Kilda to work for the summer. If you don’t already know, St Kilda is in fact a group of very remote islands off the west coast of Scotland. The people who lived there, lived a very different way of life from most, often cut off from the mainland in winter and survival could be a real struggle. The community which Fred joins will turn out to be the last to live there as eventually, the struggle became too difficult and the islanders were evacuated.
Fred falls in love with island girl Chrissie and she with him. But with very different outlooks on life, it seems that it must be impossible for them to be together. Thirteen years later, Chrissie now lives on the mainland and hasn’t heard from Fred since he left at the end of that summer. Fred has been captured during the Second World War but has escaped and while making his way back to Britain, thinks of the girl he once loved, and still does. His determination to see her again is what keeps him going.
This was a beautifully written account of a way of life that was unique and showed the real challenges of living in this beautiful but wild place. The islanders’ love for their home and their pride in surviving there was clear. Through Chrissie eyes we see the beauty of nature but also its harshness. We see how fiercely independent the islanders were and how difficult it was for them to finally admit that living on the island was no longer sustainable. I thought it was particularly poignant to think of what they were leaving: not just their homes, their way of life and all they held dear, but also the graves of their loved ones. It must have been heart-breaking.
The Lost Lights of St Kilda blends together storylines from two different times, moving smoothly from one character’s viewpoint to another and from one time to another. It is a detailed, evocative novel telling of the love not just between the characters but also a deep love of the land.
My thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part in the tour and to the publishers, Corvus, for my review copy via Netgalley. The Lost Lights of St Kilda will be published on 5th March in hardback and as an ebook with the paperback to follow in October. You can order a copy from the publishers’ website here: The Lost Lights of St Kilda
From the back of the book
1927: When Fred Lawson takes a summer job on St Kilda, little does he realise that he has joined the last community to ever live on that beautiful, isolated island. Only three years later, St Kilda will be evacuated, the islanders near-dead from starvation. But for Fred, that summer – and the island woman, Chrissie, whom he falls in love with – becomes the very thing that sustains him in the years ahead.
1940: Fred has been captured behind enemy lines in France and finds himself in a prisoner-of-war camp. Beaten and exhausted, his thoughts return to the island of his youth and the woman he loved and lost. When Fred makes his daring escape, prompting a desperate journey across occupied territory, he is sustained by one thought only: finding his way back to Chrissie.
The Lost Lights of St Kilda is 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.
About the author
Elisabeth Gifford studied French literature and world religions at Leeds University. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway College. She is married with three adult children and lives in Kingston upon Thames.