Books

Clear by Carys Davies review – a wonderful, poetic reminder that no man is an island

This powerful novella deals with loneliness, human connection and the power of language with beautiful economy

Clear by Carys Davies is out now (Granta, £14.99)

At only 150 pages long, Clear by Carys Davies is a powerful novella that deals with loneliness, human connection and the power of language with beautiful economy. The book is set in the 1840s in Scotland during the Highland Clearances, where John Ferguson is an impoverished rebel church minister who agrees to help a landowner by visiting his farthest-flung tenant on an island halfway to Norway to evict him.

This tenant is Ivar, a gentle giant who farms the tiny island on his own, scratching a living in a traditional way and speaking Norn, a language that once existed in Orkney and Shetland, but died out around the time the book is set.

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Ferguson has a difficult voyage and subsequently falls from a cliff on the island and is injured. Ivar finds him and cares for him, treating his wounds and feeding him, all the while with no idea of who Ferguson is or what his mission is. Ferguson has been given four weeks to deal with Ivar, but instead of attempting to convey his eviction, he begins to learn Ivar’s language, and an unlikely and profound friendship strikes up between the men.

Clear is a wonderful example of an apparently small and contained story that has a huge heart and universal themes, looking at how we communicate and connect with each other on a fundamental level, and the effect that can have on our worldviews and our own lives. Davies writes with a wonderful, poetic clarity and a poet’s love of language, the specificity of her words bringing the world and its characters to life vividly on the page. This might not be the most commercial fiction on the planet, but it has an emotional resonance that will live long in the heart of the reader.

Doug Johnstone is an author and journalist.

Clear by Carys Davies is out now (Granta, £14.99). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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