This Side of Land

By Elizabeth Hollister FrostCOWARD-McCANN
THE author calls This Side of Land “ An Island Epic,” the island being Nantucket. It is, in fact, an encyclopedic view of that island as it was during the days of whaling and the War of 1812. Since at that time the men were nearly all on the sea, it deals almost entirely with women. Written with what one may call a passionate minuteness, slowly and lovingly, no flower, bird, fish, or shell being so small or common as to be dismissed with a mere noun or adjective, it nevertheless has the effect of dream rather than of reality. Much of it really is dream — the author’s or her favorite character, Me-me’s.
The book is written in an original idiom based on the speech of the island, at least as this is recorded in old letters, journals, and poems, enriched by imagination and a poet’s love of the specific word and thing. Whether the people ever talked like this is hardly important. for the idiom is a distilled essence, something like that of Elizabeth Madox Roberts’s in The Time of Man. It is earthy, racy, at times beautiful, and always very expressive. One would say that the effect is that of idyl rather than of epic, though there are episodes of powerful drama. The very originality of matter and manner may repel some readers, as it did me at first. I groaned over the pet-names of Meme, You-you, Ma-ma, Na, and the poetic devices, until I caught the author’s view and purpose. A story more completely feminine in a good sense would be hard to imagine. Even apart from the plot and characters, I found myself increasingly fascinated by the revelation of what a sensitive and imaginative woman sees, thinks, reels, and knows, that a man would never notice at all. R. M. G.