Islands of Abandonment by Cal Flyn

Cal Flyn weaves social history and ecological analysis into a lyrical journey through a series of spectacular uninhabited locations

Book Review by Eugenie Johnson | 20 Jan 2021
  • Islands of Abandonment
Book title: Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape
Author: Cal Flyn

What links the zone around the site of a nuclear disaster in Ukraine, derelict streets in the fourth largest city in America, and a Scottish island inhabited by feral cattle? For one, they’re all places that have either been almost entirely abandoned by humans. But they’re also three of the many (mostly) uninhabited places that journalist Cal Flyn traversed across the course of two years to form her new book Islands of Abandonment.

While her travels to these locations – from the Buffer Zone in Cyprus to the man-made Five Sisters bing in West Lothian – form the central focus of each chapter, Flyn weaves so much more into the fabric of this book. Social histories, comparisons to similar cases across the globe and references to cultural touchstones help illuminate the areas’ current state further. But it’s Flyn’s lyrical, incredibly evocative writing style that truly brings the book to life; her time on Swona in the Orkney Isles is memorable for bookending its historical perspective with somewhat gothic undertones describing her stay.

Through this, Flyn interrogates the ecological impact of human activity on each location and to what extent nature can bounce back in a truly engaging manner. By turns cautionary but with glimmers of hope, Islands of Abandonment is not only a compelling travelogue but also a fascinating insight into the relationship between man and nature. 

HarperCollins, 21 Jan, £16.99