The Valley at the Centre of the World by Malachy Tallack

In his debut novel, Malachy Tallack proves himself as adept a novelist as he is a nature writer, combining his talents with a novel deeply rooted in place

Book Review by Ceris Aston | 30 Apr 2018
  • The Valley at the Centre of the World by Malachy Tallack
Book title: The Valley at the Centre of the World
Author: Malachy Tallack

The Valley at the Centre of the World is a soaring debut novel from an already accomplished nature writer. Set in a Shetland valley, the book explores the lives of the people who live there in a moving portrayal of island life. 

Key amongst the relationships which Tallack so deftly draws is that of the characters’ relationship with Shetland: ‘We’re tied to da islands by elastic... Du just has to decide how du lives wi it’. For David, the valley is the unquestioned home of a lifetime, for Alice it is a refuge and then a research project, while the span of the novel sees Sandy attempt to navigate his relationships with the islands, his ex-girlfriend, her family and himself.

If The Valley... has a flaw, it is perhaps that some characters feel a little too much like supporting cast. Alice, in the role of outsider to the valley, offers another perspective and room for Tallack’s insights on grief, but these passages tend to lack the richness found elsewhere. Nonetheless, Tallack proves as adept a novelist as he is a nature writer, combining his talents with a novel deeply rooted in place. He evokes the changeable valley in gorgeous prose – one passage sees lupins ‘lolling like wedding guests, drunken and splendid’, another conjures an afternoon ‘darkening and straining towards a storm, like an angry dog on a lead’. A vivid, moving read.

Canongate, 3 May, £14.99 https://canongate.co.uk/books/2447-the-valley-at-the-centre-of-the-world