The Valley at the Centre of the World – Malachy Tallack
Whether we live in a heavily populated metropolis or a sparsely populated and isolated valley, the Centre of OUR World is our family, friends, and the environment we live and work in. Malachy Tallack has written a great book capturing various facets of life and presented them in a small remote community in the Shetland Islands: love and rejection, happiness and despair, achievement and failure, generosity and greed, life and death. The valley in many respects is a microcosm of the global world we live in, a world where culture, technology, ambitions and principles, are experiencing increasing forces of change. The only thing that remains durable is geology and natural history, which forms the bedrock of any place. Malachy has layered elements of history and an ancestral connection with the Valley to create a nostalgic atmosphere and an attempt to hold on as much as possible to the old ways.
Sandy is one of the central characters and he is a man you will feel a lot of empathy and warmth towards, he doesn’t get it easy, he tries to learn the old ways. His partner Emma has just left him and he is unsure where his next move will be or what he hopes to achieve in life, so he needs time to think. He decides to remain in the Valley and work with David, Emma’s father. David and his wife Mary are an elderly couple who provide a wonderful stability about the valley. David is a character that offers so much strength, wisdom and fortitude. He seems so perfectly balanced, neither living in the past nor worrying about the future, he just lives in the moment, and that moment is life itself. Not all the characters are good and the range of personalities is well balanced, from David to an alcoholic man consequentially destroying his life and relationships, and an opportunist that is greedy and avaricious and represents a growing sense of self-serving to the detriment of his friends and neighbours.
I felt slightly discontented with the first half of the book because it was all character development and I just wanted something else to happen. The characterisation, in itself, was superb and that became so apparent in the second half of the story because I became really really attached and interested in what was happening with each person.
At times it seemed that we were on the verge of a surprise or an event that would add a bit of spice to the storyline but it didn’t happen often enough, and several threads just meandered along. The use of the local Shetland dialect is likely to be a personal choice for readers. It did slow me down quite a lot, needing to reread to make sure I was picking it up right. It does introduce authenticity to the narration but affects the pace and grasp of what was happening.
Overall I really enjoyed the story, the characters were brilliant and I would highly recommend reading this book. Many thanks to Canongate Books Publishing and NetGalley, for an ARC version of the book in return for an honest review.