A great book review about The Island Nurse by Mary J MacLeod which I’d like to share with you.
The entertaining and touching true story of a district nurse on a remote Scottish island in the early 1970s. This book gives readers a generation’s step back in time, to years in the islands when life was both much harder physically and more local and simple in the sense of having fewer choices available. The story is one of the nurse and her family’s arrival in an identity-disguised but real Scottish Hebridean island, having left their busy London lives, and the inevitable cultural and practical differences which they encountered and learned to deal with in their new island home.
This book inevitably invites comparison with Lilian Beckwith’s semi-autographical books, also written by Beckwith about her experiences of Hebridean island life, having left an English city and taking up crofting. These books, while entertaining, sometimes seem to poke fun at the island way of life and Gaelic culture. Beckwith used what she observed as rather primitive lives to exaggerate the ‘difference’ of Hebridean life at the time of writing, between 1959-1978. Her books were generally not much liked by many islanders, at least those in the Western Isles; offence was taken, rather.
In similar vein, Mary J MacLeod, while always espressing her sense of having been accepted and made welcome by most of the warm-hearted, appreciative islanders, also gives rather grim descriptions of some of her nursing experiences. Desperate poverty, mental health issues and over-zealous religious ideals in what was then quite a remote island community brought the locals to some dreadful situations, in which the author as a nurse became involved and attempted to help. The book’s jacket preview; “While indoor toilets were still something of a luxury, and ‘teleeffissions’ could produce terror in some of the older residents, the glory of the mountains and the sea combined with the warmth of the island people meant she had found a haven for her family.”
Having been fortunate to have lived in various Hebridean islands since the early 1970s, I experienced a similar version of island life to Mary J MacLeod. While not working amongst islanders in a professional capacity, I found the local people to be welcoming, accepting and highly aware and intelligent, with few exceptions. It was a privilege to have met the island people of that time, and to have learned a little of the local Gaelic culture. Although for many there undoubtedly was poverty and few mod cons, these were very special people whose influence and ways of life will always stay with me, and whose like we will not see again.
“The Island Nurse” will appeal to readers who have an interest in family life in a Hebridean island and in the nursing profession, and also to those who enjoy family stories in general. While not doubting the author’s veracity in writing about her experiences, it might be as well if readers take Mary J MacLeod’s characterisations of islanders with at least a small pinch of salt.
The Island Nurse Paperback is available from Amazon for £5.99