Usually after I finish reading a book, I know exactly how I experienced it. Sentences and scenes can stay with me for days. With The Letters of Ivor Punch by Colin MacIntyre I wasn’t sure of my ‘final judgement’. It was such a mixed bag. I thoroughly enjoyed some parts, but struggled with others. And it’s hard to summarise in a few lines what the book is about, which can be a good thing.
Ivor Punch is an old man and former policeman on a small island in the west of Scotland. He doesn’t speak much. But when he does, he throws in the word fuck every few lines, a habit that I found utterly annoying, because it made him come across as an imbecile, and it halted things, I didn’t see the point of it. But what Ivor does do really well, is write loads of letters (which, again, he peppers with countless fucks). The letters are revealing, touching and very true, and are the framework of the story. All those letters are linked to island stories, to the people who live(d) on it, including multiple Punch generations. Fiction and facts are liberally mixed up.
You’re on vacation and you spot a house that stirs you imagination. A detached, cosy looking, ‘what if I’d live here’ kind of place with a gate that opens to the beach. If you actually want to try such a remote house with daylight streaming through the large windows and the wind slamming the outside walls, then steer to Haunn. A few cottages thrown together, surrounded by the machair, sweeping to the edge of the rough sea. The weather promises four seasons in one day, which alters the views constantly. Blackface sheep, gliding seagulls, even a sea eagle with its magnificent wingspan, the sun reflected on its white tail feathers. Here you are doing without human noises. The singing wind and scattered baaing. Your own thoughts are your company, or maybe here you manage to switch them off.
Lachlan Cattanach was the eleventh Chief of the MacLeans. He was a fiery man, big in built and big in ego. His clan was his identity and he wanted to make it stronger than all other ten chiefs of his family before him. When he looked out from his castle on the outcrop across the sound, he imagined what it would be like to own all the sea and all the land he could see or even imagine. After many a sleepless night, and solely to make his MacLean clan even more dominant, it was arranged that he would marry a Campbell, a daughter of the sworn enemy!
If you stand on the pier, the row of radiant houses in your back, you look out across Tobermory Bay. It faces the sun from the south and if you’re lucky you may spot otters, seals, porpoises and dolphins. There are persistent rumours that a Spanish galleon is at the bottom of the bay, but no treasure was ever found. However, the way the water shimmers white gold, you can very well imagine there is something precious beckoning from the seabed.