Title: The Lost Lights of St Kilda
Author: Elisabeth Gifford
Published: March 31st 2020
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Rating: 3.5 stars
1927: When Fred Lawson takes a summer job on St Kilda, little does he realise that he has joined the last community to ever live on that beautiful, isolated island. Only three years later, St Kilda will be evacuated, the islanders near-dead from starvation. But for Fred, that summer – and the island woman, Chrissie, whom he falls in love with – becomes the very thing that sustains him in the years ahead.
1940: Fred has been captured behind enemy lines in France and finds himself in a prisoner-of-war camp. Beaten and exhausted, his thoughts return to the island of his youth and the woman he loved and lost. When Fred makes his daring escape, prompting a desperate journey across occupied territory, he is sustained by one thought only: finding his way back to her.
The Lost Lights of St Kilda is a sweeping love story that will cross oceans and decades. It is a moving and deeply vivid portrait of two lovers, a desolate island, and the extraordinary power of hope in the face of darkness.
The Lost Lights of St Kilda is a literary tribute to island life, the war, survival, bravery, hope, endurance and faith. Incorporating two timelines, this new novel from a passionate historical fiction storyteller relays a tale of two lovers, despair, hope and longing.
Navigating the years 1927 and 1940 respectively, The Lost Lights of St Kilda encompasses two very rich historical stories. We first meet Fred, a man who joins the close knit community of St Kilda via a summer posting. In a short time frame, Fred falls in love with a local beauty. When St Kilda has to be evacuated, the island community reaches breaking point and the residents must contend with a threat to their existence. St Kilda has clearly left its mark on Fred, in more ways than one and he cannot put this place to the back of his mind. Travelling forward to the year 1940, we meet Fred again as he fights to survive the war. Fred finds himself in a prisoner of war camp and his spirits have taken a severe beating due to the conditions of the camp. But the only thing that drives Fred’s determination to live is his treasured memories of St Kilda. Fred’s reflections on his time on the island and his memories of his lost island love implore him to overcome his experiences in the camp. When Fred breaks free in a bold escape from the camp, he sets off on a life changing and unforgettable journey back into the arms of his love. Can Fred makes his way back to the shining lights of St Kilda?
The Lost Lights of St Kilda is the fourth novel by British author Elisabeth Gifford. I am familiar with this author’s writing after reading her previous release, The Good Doctor of Warsaw. I loved this book. I approached The Lost Lights of St Kilda with gusto, based on my previous experience of this author’s work.
Firstly, I must say I loved the setting depicted in The Lost Lights of St Kilda. A stunning two page spread map of the area of St Kilda adorns the opening pages of this book. It was a great way to set the scene and situate the reader within this very interesting locale. St Kilda represents a group of islands off Scotland, that I was previously unaware of until I read this book. There were many beautifully realised descriptions of this treacherous, but stunning location. It is teaming with wildlife and a sweeping backdrop. Gifford does a very good job of placing her reader directly in the setting. I felt the wind in my air, I smelt the salt from the sea and I absorbed the island based setting. Equally well realised were the references to village life, the customs, rituals and expectations of living in this place. My heart really took a dip when the island residents were faced with incredible hardship and evacuation. Gifford portrays this aspect well.
Gifford crosses two time periods, travelling from 1927 to 1940, with great attention to detail and authenticity. A glance over the acknowledgements section at the close of the book reiterated this fact for me. Gifford is a dedicated historical storyteller and it shows through this novel. The Lost Lights of St Kilda is supported by plenty of research, understanding and passion.
Equally well realised are the characters. Fred is a strong lead protagonist. I admired his overall outlook in life. I yearned for Fred’s survival and wished that he could be reunited with his love. In Chrissie, Fred’s romantic interest, we see a woman with power, endurance and a toiling spirit. These characters will be sure to earn a place in your mind before the close of the book. Their respective pathways and the fight for survival to find love again will be sure to appeal to any reader’s heart.
I did find The Lost Lights of St Kilda a very slow burn style novel. I had to keep pulling myself back and slowing down my pace while reading this book. The Lost Lights of St Kilda is a novel that really demands the reader drink in every word, sentence, paragraph and chapter. It really didn’t ramp up until very late in the piece and by then, I was rather detached from the book. Unfortunately, I think this is a case of my current distracted reading style getting in the way of a perfectly good book.
The Lost Lights of St Kilda is a story of belonging, desire, friendship, love and resilience. Historical fiction readers should look out for this one.
The Lost Lights of St Kilda by Elisabeth Gifford was published on 31st March 2020 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Lost Lights of St Kilda, Elisabeth Gifford, visit here.
*Thanks extended to Allen & Unwin for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.