Morning Tide by Neil M. Gunn

18 June 2012 00:20

Neil Gunn was born in the far north of mainland Scotland, in Caithness. Morning Tide was published in 1930, and he stuck firmly to what he had experienced himself. It’s the story of a small fishing and crofting community near Caithness, at the end of the 19th century, where life is harsh and the women don’t know if their husbands and sons will come back after their day’s work is done. All too often the sea claims them before they can get back to shore with their catch.

The story begins on the beach where the thirteen year old Hugh Mac Beth is searching for mussels for his father to use as bait on his fishing line. It feels like a sort of rite of passage as Hugh has reached the age when he can be a help to his father instead of just being another mouth to feed.

Neil Gunn writes a good storm and if you’re languishing in horrendous heat wherever you are at the moment, I’m fairly sure that reading this book would cool you down by the way Gunn describes the cold of the sea and the shore.

This is an autobiographical story and it’s really as much about the women of the community as the men. Young and old are having a hard and sometimes cruel life and the community is dying as the young men go off to seek their fortune elsewhere. Waving off their sons to places like Australia was something that the parents just had to do, knowing that they would never see them again, but at least they would be alive and hopefully living a better life.

Hugh grows up in lots of ways, like being allowed to take part in a poaching party but he can’t neglect his schoolwork and he has to learn poetry by heart, failure to do so will result in the schoolmaster doling out the usual punishment – getting the strap/belt/tawse – up to six strokes of it on the hand.

If you’re interested in what Scottish life was like back then then I think that Morning Tide will give you a clear idea. It wasn’t all doom, there were occasional joys for the folks too.

This book is written in plain English and Neil M. Gunn is thought to have been one of the most influential Scottish writers of the first half of the 20th century.

9 responses to “Morning Tide by Neil M. Gunn”

  1. Peggy Ann says:

    Sounds really good. I will have to look for his books. Might be hard to find here. Thank goodness for the Internet! I’m reading a fiction book right now set in the Highlands during the clearances. Unbelievable.

    • Katrina says:

      Peggy Ann,
      Have you had a look at http://www.awesomebooks.com/search/?q=neil+m.+gunn&s=no&c=all&x=0&y=0. There are quite a lot of his books there, some quite cheap and free postage I think. I’m dying to know what you’re reading now!

      • Peggy Ann says:

        ‘I just finished ‘Jennie About to Be’ by Elizabeth Olgilvie. She lived in Maine and wrote many many novels set on the islands of Maine with lobster-man and their families. She is one of my favorite authors. She is out of print now except for a few books that a company in Maine called Down East Books are reprinting. Her Bennett Island chronicles made me fall in love with Maine. She said other than Maine she would want to be in Scotland. I am not sure if she is of Scottish ancestry or not. I have ordered a book about her called A Mug Up with Elizabeth. Maybe it will tell. The Jennie book is fiction of course but excellent. She ends up in Maine of course. I’ve ordered the next two in the series. I wish I could just run them over to you to read!

        • Katrina says:

          Peggy Ann,
          I hadn’t heard of her but I’ll be looking out for her books now. Apparently she was of Scottish descent and did do a tour of the Highlands. Ogilvie is a Scottish name of course!

  2. Evee says:

    Another of his on the fishing is The Silver Darlings – aboutthe herring that was plentiful around our coasts once. Must read Morning Tide again. It’s a long time since I read it last.

    • Katrina says:

      Evee,
      The Silver Darlings is quite a well known book isn’t it, I don’t think I’ve read it, though I keep getting mixed up between the Neils – Gunn and Munro.

  3. [...] Grey Coast by Neil M Gunn. I’d read on Katrina’s blog Pining for the West about one of Gunn’s book and made a note of his name. So, I was pleased to find this book, [...]

  4. Lisa says:

    This sounds wonderful, and not just because we’re languishing in the horrible heat :)

    • Katrina says:

      Lisa,
      In your situation I think I would be reading any books which are set in a cold place – and I’d be sitting in a cold bath while I read them!

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