This seemed a useful way of resolving his problematic relationship with an island on which he had lived from an early age, but always as an outsider. It’s no surprise, then, that the places he encounters on his round-trip provide echoes of his dislocation, from the ‘non-human disorder’ of Greenland, where ‘the line that separates nature and culture has been erased’, to a Canada in which he finds a version of the north patched together from the histories of those who have left the south. But Tallack discovers that those who accept the constraints of geographical remoteness engage with their environment in a way that city dwellers don’t; engage, too, with each other – here, a sense of community is not really optional: remoteness has exposed human vulnerability, and ‘any other way of living would be destructive’.
Out in the wild country, humans live in small settlements, and are no longer the uncontested kings of the food chain. This can produce a sense of fear both complicated and confusing, but which for Tallack boils down to a single word: bear. The remoteness also changes his relationship with time – fishing in Alaska, he finds, ‘expands the present in every direction… as it does in the moment of an accident’. And this, like so much else, reminds him of his father, whose sudden death wrought huge changes in the author’s life, robbing him of the choices he’d made, and exiling him – as he then felt – to Shetland. This is a rather touching read; as much an act of mourning as it is a travel book.
60 DEGREES NORTH: Around the World in Search of Home by Malachy Tallack; Polygon; £12.99 (hardback)
This review was published in the September 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine