In his introduction to this excellent book, Richard Clubley discusses the origins of his "islomania", a word originally coined by Lawrence Durrell to describe a powerful addiction to islands. He concludes he may never get to the bottom of his love for islands, and Scottish islands in particular, but goes on to say: "Every journey to an island begins with a quickening of the pulse. Each time I look out of my window in March and see the light sparkling on the water, or feel the strength returning to the sun, I know it is time to start checking the ferry schedules." That quote tells us two things about Richard Clubley. The first is that he really is a genuine isleomane (perhaps it takes one to know one); and the second is that he has a beautiful written style that allows him to convey his enthusiasm in a truly inspiring way.
So, what do we expect from a book called "Scotland's Islands: A Special Kind of Freedom"? It has to be said up front that there is no shortage of books providing guides to some or all of Scotland's islands, and that is certainly NOT what Richard Clubley has tried to do here. Neither is it really an account of the author's wanderings among Scotland's islands. Not entirely, anyway. What we have are thirty six chapters, arranged generally geographically, each of which looks at a particular island, or group of islands, or at a topic which cuts across islands. In effect this is a collection of free-standing articles written in a way that draws on the author's extensive travels to illustrate wider points about island life or island travelling.
To give an example of how this works in practice, one chapter looks at the history of Mingulay, while the next deals with cliff climbing adventures on the same island. Elsewhere the Flannan Isles tragedy (the disappearance of three lighthouse keepers) is related; while another chapter discusses wind power on the islands, with particular reference to the experience on Fair Isle and Gigha. Where the author is at his best is where he is being inspirational, especially in describing the impact of the islands on some of the young people he has taken to them. He is also, however, prepared to be critical in places: for example noting the shop/cafe on Fetlar where the shop is "closed" at times when cafe customers need to walk it through it to eat. What emerges is a fascinating, rounded impression of Scotland's islands, warts and all in places, and a book you can either read cover to cover or simply dip into for inspiration.