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I Am An Island Reviews

I Am An Island by Tamsin Calidas

I Am An Island

Tamsin Calidas

4.00 out of 5

7 reviews

Imprint: Doubleday
Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd
Publication date: 23 Jul 2020
ISBN: 9780857526656

'Completely astonishing...the fragility of life transcended and restored by the triumphant pull of a determination to survive' - Juliet Nicolson When Tamsin Calidas first arrives on a remote island in the Scottish Hebrides, it feels like coming home.

4 stars out of 5
28 Nov 2020

"isolation can all too easily become exile"

She describes her life there as “intensely difficult”. Even before publication the islanders recognised themselves in Calidas’s book and some have since spoken to the press about how they are unfairly portrayed as hostile. “Scotland is a different, vibrant country away from our stale, tired London life”, Calidas says. But then she does little to downplay her joy at hearing an “educated English accent”. Perhaps a longing for solitude is less about peace than it is about social ambivalence.


4 stars out of 5
Caspar Henderson
21 Nov 2020

"a vivid and at times almost unbearably distressing story from which it is very hard to turn away"

Calidas is a supple, sensuous writer – deeply empathic, and ready to forgive. Her account is shot through with moments of intense brightness. In the third part of the book she finds peace in night walking along the tracks of deer, and swims in the freezing winter sea. “I know that if I can stand bare-skinned in the freezing cold, hurl myself into the waves and keep swimming then I am winning.”


4 stars out of 5
23 Jul 2020

"a gruelling glimpse into what it would feel like if quarantine conditions intensified and extended for years"

At her lowest, Calidas admits she walked naked out into the icy sea to end her life, but her will to survive was reinvigorated by the briny waves. Finding a passion for swimming kept her afloat, and she sought bracing solace in the waves all through the winter and even at night. Though her book charts the ragged grief she felt at the loss of both her parents and her only friend on the island, who died in a car crash, Calidas was continually revived by the wild beauty around her: the misty breath of deer at dawn, the velvet sprawl of seals on the beach and the gulls screaming above the spray.

4 stars out of 5
26 May 2020

"it’s impossible not to marvel at all the author has survived"

This story’s cathartic potential relies on its audience’s willingness to stick with a book that can be – to be blunt – depressing. The writing often tends towards the poetic (“In November the cliffs are hewn sharper by salt spray and winds skirling off the sea”), but it is occasionally marred by platitudes (“Sometimes you have to let go of the past in order to create a future”) and New Age sentiments (“to tap into our primal inner self … is the first step … towards reclaiming our own wilder spirit”). As in the case of Tara Westover’s Educated, it’s impossible not to marvel at all the author has survived. Admiring Tamsin Calidas’s toughness, though, doesn’t preclude relief at reaching the final page.

4 stars out of 5
Helen Davies
17 May 2020

"A writer’s struggles in a remote corner of Scotland make for remarkable reading"

I Am an Island is a wondrous, sensuous memoir of salt-stung survival. The losses and griefs, which are delivered in unrelentingly clear-eyed and poetic prose, pile up continually. In her twenties, the Oxford-educated Calidas was in a catastrophic car crash that left her “screaming in agony” and barely able to walk, sleep or lie down in bed. It “drew a line under and through my life” and she dreamt of a new existence in Scotland. Fourteen years ago, and six months married to Rab, she swapped London for a derelict croft on a Hebridean island, population fewer than 120, where the winter sun sets at 3pm and rises after 9am. What followed was a life of vast skies, wild sea, hard work and slowly soured hope.

4 stars out of 5
16 May 2020

"I found I Am An Island an uncomfortable yet beautiful read"

Calidas’ writing is beautiful and lyrical, making her memoir strangely compelling. Yet it is difficult to see the author as the completely innocent party in this battle of cultures between the apparently old-fashioned islanders and the incomer from Notting Hill. Her own prejudices often slip out. When she first speaks to Cristall – to whom Calidas has offered her services as a gardener – she freely admits that she is thrilled to hear an “educated English accent”. Any other friendships she does make – a scene near the end refers to her being surrounded by “harmonious voices” and “laughter” – she skips over, seemingly preferring to focus on the hostility.

4 stars out of 5
2 May 2020

"tough yet compulsive reading, carried by crisp, vivid prose"

Gradually she recovers from the trauma of her past and finds her own understanding of ‘the old ways’. She begins to appreciate the harshness of her island home, where ‘the landscape wears no airs and graces. It offers no false promises. I recognise in its stark simplicity a way of life I have grown to love beyond words.’ There is an admirable purity to Calidas’s persistence; and while I started reading thinking she was rather foolish, I ended up wondering whether she might not be uncommonly wise.