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The Crofter and the Laird by John McPhee

The Crofter and the Laird

by John McPhee

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I recommend reading this in tandem with Sea Room by Adam Nicholson; the author of which is himself the laird of a Scottish island.
  sonofcarc | Mar 27, 2016 |
In the mid-1960s, McPhee and his family went to live on Colonsay, one of the Hebrides, for a year because it's where McPhee's family came from. This isn't a Peter Mayle-style book, though--it's about the people and the land of Colonsay and not so much about McPhee's experience. Colonsay is (or at least was at that time) totally owned by a laird. The 150 or so people who live on the island have what is basically a feudal relationship with the laird. There are a number of crofters, people who are entitled to rent certain land from the laird (at a very low rate) for use in part-time farming. McPhee and his family rent a house from one of these crofters, Donald Gibbie. Gibbie farms but is also in charge of the pier and has other random jobs and sources of income. He and his family mostly live off the land, not only from their farm but also by gathering eggs from wild birds, gathering shellfish, etc., because the total income from Gibbie's farm and other jobs is minimal. The people on Colonsay really live like they are in a different time, but they all seem happy enough with it; many of them have no desire to leave Colonsay. McPhee does a good job of presenting the islanders in a way that is neither too anthropological nor too romantic. ( )
  carlym | Jul 4, 2011 |
Spend some time on a Scottish island. Interesting, well written. ( )
  jimmaclachlan | Sep 25, 2009 |
McPhee has an engaging, conversational tone that is at once easy to read as well as instructive. Additionally, my library’s copy of the book contained beautiful pen and ink drawings by James Graves. The book is less a travel essay than an ethnography, as he delves into the history, myths, and community of Colonsay. Along the way he investigates, celebrates and debunks a great deal. ( )
1 vote Girl_Detective | Jan 14, 2009 |
I recently returned from my first visit to Scotland and rummaged this unread book from my library.

I enjoy McPhee's writing in The New Yorker, and this early example did not disappoint. As a young father, he takes his wife and daughters to the Hebridean island of Colonsay (population: 138), where assorted McPhees originated, and lives there for "a while."

The book is a beautifully written description of the tenants (crofters) of the island, now owned by an Etonian/Cambridge "laird", with a few words about the laird himself.

Life on the island for the crofters is imbued with the presence of fairies, ancient warriors and "little people", all helping the inhabitants to cope with a tough subsistent life. McPhee captures well the heart of the still feudal life on the island.
  bbrad | Jun 21, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0374514658, Paperback)

Like several of his other books, McPhee's The Crofter and the Laird is about people whose lives are still very much entwined with nature. But this particular volume carries added depth and feeling because McPhee is writing about his ancestral land, the island of Colonsay in the Scottish Hebrides. Crofter and the Laird is no starry-eyed and naive "back to the land" tract: McPhee describes the rigors and difficulties of this life with the same attention to detail he gives to the simple beauty of the land and lifestyle. Colonsay is a stark region of stone and seals and sheep and storms, with its residents still living under a feudal system of farmers, crofter, and lord. But McPhee honors this homeland with a rich work that would make his ancestors proud.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:28 -0400)

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