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.

Recommended

Best properties: houses with income potential
Properties with income potential
The wish list

Best properties: houses with income potential

July podcast picks: online rage, taboos and obesity
Clockwise from top left: Blocked and Reported, A Thorough Examination, Taboo and You're Wrong About
In Review

July podcast picks: online rage, taboos and obesity

Theatre in review: South Pacific, Anna X and ‘country-comedy’ opera L’amico Fritz
Clockwise from top left: Anna X, South Pacific and L’amico Fritz
In Review

Theatre in review: South Pacific, Anna X and ‘country-comedy’ opera L’amico Fritz

Douglas Kennedy: my five best books
A Flag for Sunrise by Robert Stone, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
Expert’s view

Douglas Kennedy: my five best books

Popular articles

Why your AstraZeneca vaccine may mean no European holidays
Boris Johnson receives his second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine
Getting to grips with . . .

Why your AstraZeneca vaccine may mean no European holidays

How taking the knee began
Colin Kaepernick takes the knee
Getting to grips with . . .

How taking the knee began

Ten great health, fitness and wellbeing ideas
Woman doing yoga
Advertisement Feature

Ten great health, fitness and wellbeing ideas

The Week Footer Banner