In Review

Book review: Islands of Abandonment by Cal Flyn

Flyn’s ‘surprisingly optimistic’ look at what nature does when humans cease to occupy a place 

Islands of Abandonment by Cal Flyn

One of the lessons of the pandemic has been that “when humans absent themselves, every creeping thing that creepeth upon the Earth bounceth back”, said Robbie Millen in The Times. That, on a larger scale, is the theme of Cal Flyn’s Islands of Abandonment, a beguiling blend of travelogue and nature writing which examines what happens when humans cease to occupy a place. Flyn begins her tour with the Five Sisters in West Lothian – enormous slag heaps created by the shale oil extraction industry, which have stood deserted for decades. Clambering across this “Martian mountain range”, she spots hares and badgers, red grouse and skylarks, as well as hundreds of plant species. In the “zone of alienation” around Chernobyl, there are wolves and “the odd brown bear”; and in the long-abandoned Cypriot resort of Varosha, she walks streets “knee-deep in grass and golden flowers”. Flyn is an accomplished writer – notwithstanding the occasional slip into feyness – and she has produced a book that is “fascinating and brain-energising”. 

The places Flyn visits, while possessed of an eerie attractiveness, are hardly beauty spots, said Kathleen Jamie in the New Statesman. But that is part of her point: she thinks that “when it comes to the wild, we may need to recalibrate our appreciative faculties”. With “unspoilt” nature now rare, it is perhaps only by letting these “novel” ecosystems thrive that we can hope to restore some of the planet’s “ecological balance”. Flyn is a superbly vivid writer, said Dani Garavelli in The Scottish Herald. Whether wandering the “urban prairies” of Detroit, or visiting a collective farm in Estonia, she captures the “distinctive sights, sounds and smells” of the place. The result is a book that is not only “surprisingly optimistic” in its message, but also a “scintillating” read.

William Collins 384pp £16.99; The Week Bookshop £13.99

Islands of Abandonment by Cal Flyn
The Week Bookshop

To order this title or any other book in print, visit theweekbookshop.co.uk, or speak to a bookseller on 020-3176 3835. Opening times: Monday to Saturday 9am-5.30pm and Sunday 10am-4pm.

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