Just finished reading Deer Island and loved its simplicity and sadness. I have a habit of meeting and gravitating towards people such as those Neil describes. People who have lived in squats, who have lived rough, who have given up on planning life as life has a habit of scattering plans to dust.
Neil tells a story I understand; drifting between helping the homeless and being homeless, of falling into chaos and finding years of your life swept in a whirlpool vaster than the Gulf of Corrywreckan he visits. I liked the way he chose to tell this story, not as some Eastenders melodrama, wailing, ‘me and my poor life.’ but, instead with an undercurrent of responsibility for his own choices.
This is not nature writing but an account of a tumultuous life which drove him to seek, if only for a brief time, solitude on a remote Scottish island, to maybe close a chapter and find some resolution within himself to the sadness of seeing people he had come to care about die of poverty, squalor and addiction.
This is not nature writing but at times the exquisite simplicity of it made me want to cry. Neil’s account of finding two otter cub skeletons in a cave was told with a sparseness that made it truly moving.
You are left wondering what happened to this man after he left his island. The books final line says he has never been good at keeping hold of things, which makes you feel he is still searching for his answer.
Neil Ansell says, ‘security is an illusion. Everything you have can be snatched away in an instant.’ Lord, I know this to be true but, despite its truth, I found myself hoping that he finds some security.