In the early years of the Second World War an army officer is sent to the Faroe Islands to investigate rumours of a collaboration with the Nazi regime in Norway. What he finds changes lives, not least his own. No one who listens to this audiobook will forget the frozen corpse tied to a chair in an icehouse guarded by two drunken seamen, or the raging storm which batters their, ship as they carry the body to Shetland. That’s just the beginning. As the tale takes grip, the reader becomes haunted, just as the characters are haunted by a sense of guilt and betrayal.
One of the finest of Linklater’s later, deeper, darker novels, The Dark of Summer combines national and family histories as it sets out to understand the past, redeem the corrosion of memory and find meaning in a world of divided loyalties.
Eric Linklater (1899-1974) wrote scores of novels for adults and children. He was also a journalist in India, commander of a wartime fortress in the Orkney Islands, and rector of Aberdeen University.
What would have made The Dark of Summer better?
A focus on the World War Two spy adventure set in the Shetland Islands.
What could Eric Linklater have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?
Curtailed the picaresque story of the main character and narrator.
What did you like about the performance? What did you dislike?
If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Dark of Summer?
Most of the scenes that cover the hero's life after his visit to Shetland.
Any additional comments?
This is a novel from a different era and conventions change, for instance, away from scene-setting and character elaboration. Even so, I still think that “The Dark of Summer” is a misconceived novel, with the result that some accomplished writing – for instance, a description of travelling by train in wartime -- is largely wasted. I’d even go so far as to suggest that “Quisling Calling” would be a better title for a novel that retained and concentrated upon the intriguing spy story set in and off Shetland during the Second World War, when a puppet government in Norway under Vidkun Quisling became a just-possible focus for an alliance between countries and regions on the “territorially ambiguous” North Atlantic fringes of Europe, from Tromso to Rejkavik to the Faroes. There is genuine tension in this section of “The Dark of Summer”, in some ways reminiscent of Erskine Childers’ novel of 1903, “The Riddle of the Sands”, with its warning of the then only possible invasion of Britain by a Germany on the rise. “The Dark of Summer” catches the historical moment of the months after the blitz when the legacy of Dunkirk was heavy on the country’s mind. On the edges of the UK, the situation threw up some radical figures, notably Mungo Wishart, the possible spy, whom the hero, Tony Chisum is sent by “London” to investigate.
The weakness of Eric Linklater’s odd, even bizarre, and now almost entirely overlooked novel is its focus on Chisum, who is also the narrator. He is passive and self-blaming beyond all pretence at English self-deprecation or as a consequence of having only one arm. As a result, the chapters that follow him after he leaves Shetland in add nothing to the historical events of the war, for instance, the El Alamein and Italian campaigns. Nor do they add to an appreciation of Chisum, with the result that it is difficult to care when awful events occur and easy to laugh when he seeks to recover his life by returning to Shetland and clumsily attempts to kiss the daughter of Mungo Wishart, dressed in a rubber fishing suit. By that point the thematic opposition which interests Linklater – between men of purpose and men of feeling – has been lost.
Eric Linklater (1899-1974) had the kind of life that now seems impossibly generalist, serving in the Black Watch in the last years of World War One; travels in India; an academic in Aberdeen and then in the US; twenty-plus novels, including some children’s fiction; and lots of non-fiction, especially when he became interested in Scotland’s culture and politics (he was a Scottish Nationalist); and Rector of the University of Aberdeen. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that “The Dark of Summer” touches on so much that is still of considerable interest that it is overwhelmed as a novel.
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Fascinating beautiful tale with a moving account of Shetland, an old feud, and a different perspective on WW II.