Island of Wings, Paperback Book
3 out of 5 (5 ratings)


Longlisted for the Orange Prize 2012. 1830. Neil and Lizzie MacKenzie, a newly married young couple, arrive at the remotest part of the British Isles: St Kilda.

He is a minister determined to save the souls of the pagan inhabitants; his pregnant wife speaks no Gaelic and, when her husband is away, has only the waves and the cry of gulls for company.

As both find themselves tested to the limit in this harsh new environment, Lizzie soon discovers that marriage is as treacherous a country as the land that surrounds her.


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Showing 1 - 5 of 5 reviews.

Review by

“At last the firm ground of Hirta, our lost Eden!”Neil McKenzie is a minister, called to serve the people of St Kilda, the most remote part of the British Isles, in 1830. His new and pregnant wife Lizzie follows him, despite speaking no Gaelic and having no company when her husband is away. Can they ever be happy in such an abandoned place?The writing about nature is undeniably beautiful and skilful; I cannot imagine writing like this in my first language, never mind a second (Altenberg is Swedish). However, the book is so, so bleak and dreary. No end of childhood births, no particular plot progression within 120 pages (at which point I stopped); everything is as grey as the sky and sea which surrounds the island.The political environs of the time were somewhat alien to me and not explained at all, so I think you need a decent background in Scottish and church history around 1830, as well as an understanding of missions.

Review by

I was attracted to this novel as it concerned one of the most intriguing and remote, formerly inhabited islands, St Kilda in the Outer Hebrides, with which I have been interested for some years. This book centres around the real life story of a Church minister, Neil McKenzie, who served on the island in the 1830s-40s, attempting to convert the "uncivilised" inhabitants to the unbending Christianity of the Scottish Kirk. The descriptions of the island, its wildlife, topography and the simple and harsh, yet also refreshingly natural tempo of life of the inhabitants, are well described and quite captivating. The story moves slowly at times and McKenzie himself is an unbending and largely unsympathetic character, though his wife Lizzie comes across as more human and natural. The attitude of many of the tourists and aristocrats who visit the islands is patronising in the extreme, but Lizzie in particular comes to identify with the locals and appreciate the dignity in their simple way of life. However, the islanders themselves are always depicted through the McKenzies' eyes, so we never get to see them from the inside, so it is a passive perception of their way of life. An interesting read, though a bit slow, but that reflects the ethos of the island.

Review by

I've spent several holidays on the Hebrides and have always found the story of St Kilda fascinating, so this book, set on the St Kilda of the mid- nineteenth century, seemed likely to appeal. The most isolated inhabited island of the British Isles, at least until 1930 when the remaining inhabitants requested to be resettled elsewhere, it was one where the task of eking out a living was incredibly difficult. Cut off from even the remote islands of the Outer Hebrides for a large part of every year, the inhabitants depended on the huge colonies of seabirds which nested on the islands, and on the tiny amount of arable land on which they could grow crops. And it was also an existence which was blighted by incredibly high infant mortality rates, with mothers routinely losing child after child within a week or so of birth. Unfortunately, though, this story of the first minister of St Kilda, Neil MacKenzie and his wife Elizabeth, did not engage my attention as I expected. Island of Wings tells the story of their first arrival as a young married couple in 1830, to their eventual departure in 1843. The book does succeed in conveying the isolation of Elizabeth's position in particular, as an English speaking town bred woman from the Scottish mainland, but for me at no point did the characters or the narrative really come alive. The most interesting part of the book was learning about the social conditions of the St Kildans, which were extraordinarily basic even when compared with the Hebridean Islands which were their nearest neighbour. But I had already come across much of this information, and so not much of this was new. So while I would recommend this book to someone who is not familiar with the St Kildan story and is interested to learn more, I didn't find it particularly gripping apart from this.

Review by

Meticulous research is the foundation of this narrative-heavy historical novel, based on the true lives of the Reverend and Mrs McKenzie, sent as missionaries to the Scottish island of St Kilda in the mid-19th century.The plentiful descriptions perfectly evoke the harsh barrenness of the land, and the fictionalised characterisations of this real family were interesting; at times, I would have enjoyed a tighter focus on Neil & Lizzie. An interesting and well-written portrayal of an historical era, which seemed so primitive it's hard to remember the story was set only 150 years ago, and is based on fact.

Review by

A strangly compelling book. I almost felt that something supernatural was going to happen but it never did. There was an errie feeling throught the whole book that kep me turing the page.this is the story of a minister of the church of schotland who went to one of the western isles (well the residents spoke galic) and tried to get them to be more christian. He also attempted to improve the conditions in which they lived. He did have some sucess, though the island was later abandoned. this book is well worth the read