Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Once-Wild, Unblemished Place

Eilis Dillion's The Island of Horses is an enchanting tale set on Ireland's coast. Two village boys, Danny and Pat, decide one day to visit the titular island, about which they've heard tales of curses, ghosts, and abandoned villages. They're most curious about the legendary wild Spanish ponies (decendents of survivors of the defeat of the Spanish Armada). Danny's account of their first visit to the island imparts a lovely sense of wonder and adventure: two boys, without their parents' permission, fishing for eels, camping out in a ruined cottage, and discovering the hidden valley of the horses. When Pat brings back a black colt, the plot becomes more complex and exciting. I loved Dillion's portrait of rural society (with island-to-town rivalries) and sparse descriptions of land and sea.

"The sea was like pale, gray-blue satin, with a long, smoother line far out where the current was. There was one boat out there. It looked like a bird, because we could not see where the sea joined the sky."

Isn't that the most vivid and hauntingly melancholic picture of the sea? I'm positively drunk on her simple prose.

The moral virtue of the boys and their friend Luke is noteworthy, as they take the chance to help their enemy. Throughout the story there is a wistful sense of loss: even as the boys explore the island, they are stealing away the magical seclusion of this mysterious place, and after they take the colt home with them, they worry about others invading the island and kidnapping the remaining horses.

I'm deeply sympathetic to the allure of a remote place; there's nothing quite like finding a little pocket of life on the edge of nowhere, which I've had a few opportunities to do in my travels. Even though I'm sure thousands of readers have shared Dillon's story, my reading of it makes me feel alone and contemplative--in a very, very good way. I highly recommend it if you're in that kind of mood, which makes it all the more appropriate for winter reading.

1 comment:

Jackamo said...

Alone and contemplative...that just might fit the bill. Love the prose!