Six Weeks of Solitude: And I Dream of Central Heating

Saturday's Guardian Magazine had a short, but fascinating, article on the joys of silence. The author of the article, Sara Maitland, rented an isolated cottage on the Isle of Skye for six weeks and attempted to live in complete solitude and silence. She had brought enough food to last her six weeks, a few books and some sewing to keep her company. Her experience makes for interesting reading but it also made me wonder. I am a big fan of silence and solitude myself. It's possibly the aftermath of living in lively student halls for years followed by shared accommodation or maybe it is because I am an only child and spent my formative years playing by myself. The idea of spending six weeks by myself on a remote Scottish island intrigues me - although I would probably never go through with it as I'm very, very fond of central heating, fresh milk and my partner. Still, the idea made me wonder what books and knitting projects I'd bring with me to keep me company for six weeks.

Books. Six weeks equals fifty-six days. Depending upon the book, it would last between two hours and two days. As this would be an exercise in enjoying silence and finding solitude, I would not want to squeeze in too many books, but I wouldn't want to get bored either. Call it fifteen books, okay eighteen books.

  1. Johannes V. Jensen: Kongens Fald [The Fall of the King]: One of the most acclaimed Danish novels and Modernist to boot. I started reading it last year but put it aside when I started to get very busy with work. It would be a return to my native language and history.
  2. William Makepeace Thackeray: Vanity Fair: My good friend Maria once spent her entire Christmas holiday holed up in Inverness with nothing but this book to keep her company. I vaguely remember reading it (maybe just starting it) during my mad "I need to have read all the classics before I turn fifteen" phase. I'd like to revisit it with older, wiser eyes.
  3. E.M. Forster: The Longest Journey: The only Forster novel I have not read (and I even have a lovely copy given to me by my old friend SΓΈren). Realistically, the first novel I would reach for in that little cottage. I like Forster. He is so .. placid on the surface but with so many undercurrents.
  4. Henry David Thoreau: Walden; or, Life in the Woods: What better book to read whilst in an isolated cottage on a remote island than a book written by a hermit about self-reliance, solitude, contemplation, and closeness to nature? Okay, so Thoreau actually lived on the edge of a town and a was a bit of poseur .. but it would be an apt read. I have only read (longish) extracts but Thoreau is both very noble and very, very entertaining (and a bit daft too).
  5. Iris Murdoch: The Sea, The Sea: I think I should get better acquainted with Murdoch. I read and loved The Bell and The Sea, The Sea is said to be her masterpiece. It is also a book about solitude, imagination and truths. An obvious choice, really.
  6. Mikhail Bulgakov: The White Guard: Both The Master and Margarita and The Heart of a Dog were hugely, hugely enjoyable reads (the former ending up as one of my all-time favourite reads, fact fans). The White Guard has been sitting on my bookshelf for the best part of a year. I really need to get around to reading it.

The first six books, then. The next six books will be posted tomorrow and the remaining six on Wednesday.

But what about the knitting? Between eighteen books, me sleeping a great deal and long walks, what sort of knitting should I bring? Six weeks .. that translates into two sweaters and a big shawl, surely? Ah, but I'm not so sure about that. I have two projects in mind. Funnily enough I will be writing about the first one tomorrow and the second one on Wednesday. Stay tuned.