I liked this book, it was cute and quirky and an easy untaxing read which is just what i needed when I read it. I really liked a lot of the nature descriptions but the further into it i got the more I went “hmm.” It’s about a ten year old girl who moves to a remote croft in scotland and lives there for seven years with assorted animal companions who engage in unlikely behaviours and are fed unrealistic diets.
She rescues a baby seal who apparently subsequently learned to play the xylophone and the horn (badly, admittedly). Common seals (also known as Harbour Seals) are cute and smart as hell but I’m not convinced they could learn to play the horn.
Many of the animals are kept on a diet consisting in large parts of rehydrated cows milk and bread, neither of which ar at all healthy form most animals. At the very least they would have had digestive issues from this diet.
She also has a very romanticised celtic twilightesque view/memory/imagination when it comes to the local crofters and villagers that seems unlikely for someone who actually spent considerable time growing up among them
so anyway when I finished the book I did a bit of research and I couldn’t find out a lot about the writer but it turns out that nobody knows how much of the book is true and how much is embellishment or fiction. Which actually really appeals to the part of me that is obsessed with stories
The few articled I did find about her suggest that people have done some research and come up with, well not much,
Fleming [who wrote the foreword to a reprint of the book] agrees that the more eccentric animal antics are highly unlikely and, after spending considerable time in that part of Sutherland in which the story appears to be set – around Strath Skinsdale, between the Strath of Kildonan and Ben Armine – even the book’s most fundamental tenets may be up for questioning. “There don’t seem to be many stories about her,” he said this week. “Although one man said she did camp in the area in a tent for several weeks, while someone else said he’d been told by his parents that she had spent holidays in the area, but had never lived there for any length of time.”
I want to interject that there may be some aspect of “how could a woman and a girl child possibly have managed on their own in those circumstances for that long!” handwringing going on but i don’t think that was all of it. I think she genuinely did make a bunch of stuff up and write about it as if it was real. I think she wasn’t expecting it to be taken so seriously or be so popular when it had been published
Uncomfortable with the attention she disappeared for three years, much to the aggravation of her publisher who resorted to printing messages in the personal column of The Times in an attempt to contact her
She was also estranged from her family at the time of publishing and had been for some time, as someone who knows what it takes to make someone walk away from their family, i wonder if this story is one she invented as a child and adolescent to lose herself in as self protection
1. Illustration from the book by Raymond Sheppard