Islands of the Evening – A Review

What follows is my Goodreads review of this book. The amount of eclectic material that crosses my desk and ultimately finds its way to my GR ‘to-read’ pile can feel overwhelming at times, dizzying even. So much of it follows the same old patterns, character and story arcs both predictable and tired, tropes emerging like prairie calf-ruts can leave one wanting more.

In this case, my spirit just drank heaven from a garden hose. This post-evangelical, Celtic mystic sits in dust and ashes akin to a post-coital haze after mounting this treasure of a book (sorry, too much?).

Islands of the Evening: Journeys to the Edge of the World by Alistair Moffat

My rating: 5 of 5 stars (6, but I was only given the option of 5)

I read a lot of books. Fewer than some. More than others. I’ve come to expect certain things – peaks and troughs, mounting action and denouement, savages routed, heroes touted, love lost and regained, bad guys, good guys, undetermined guys; sometimes cliché, sometimes quaint, tropes and gropes and the like all tumbling together to form what eclectic fare has become my Goodreads history.

I’m no literary expert, nor do I pretend to have anything more than a reasonable grasp of specificities or requirements of genre. But I know what I like.

From time to time comes a book so beautifully crafted, so nuanced and unashamed to go to those deeper, unexplainable places of angst and ache, anger and anxiety, passion and purity. Alistair Moffat’s “Islands of the Evening” was, for me, that book. Part memoir, part travel blog, part history and hagiography, Moffat takes one on a truly remarkable journey into Scotland’s distant past. It is carved equally in stone and moss as it is blood and devotion of those white martyr saints intent on braving the elements in pursuit of union with their God.

Perhaps most notable is how powerfully a man who claims no discernible faith or even belief in any God can write about the God he claims not to embrace. I leave this here where you can decide for yourself.

“Even though churches are emptying and prohibitions are being dismantled, there is an enduring consensus across Europe, in the Americas and elsewhere about decency, good behaviour, about what constitutes right and wrong. Overwhelmingly that consensus was formed by the centuries of Christianity. As doctrine and belief evolved, and as far too much blood was spilled, the Church largely formed our morality…the teachings of the Church have been enormously determinant in the operation of a generally accepted code of conduct both in private and public life.”

An atheist wrote this. So, for God’s sake (or yours, whatever), read this beautiful book.

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