WILD HARBOUR by Ian Macpherson. Book review

WILD HARBOUR by Ian Macpherson, The British Library, p/b, bl-shop@bl.uk

Reviewed by Sandra Scholes 

Rather than it being a science fiction novel, Wild Harbour is an alternative history of a possible future. Originally published in 1936, it is set in a Britain at war in 1944 where the protagonists Hugh and Terry feel that the war is coming too close to where they live. In an effort to evade it, they move to Scotland where they live off the land, eating berries and vegetables, finding a cave they can stay in and keep from the cold; even killing animals in order to survive.

Wild Harbour starts with Hugh and Terry in their cave taking stock of what supplies they have and more importantly trying to keep sane as bombs drop all around them. What they find hard is the thought that if the war moves ever closer, where will they go? Terry is afraid that Hugh might want to leave her and run into danger, but he is growing bored of where he is and might leave her sooner than she thinks. 

What they do seem to have a lot of is time and there is little to do once night draws in. They reminisce on what drew them to the cave in the first place; that they found it by chance and felt lucky they knew how to look after themselves in the wild. Hugh’s knowledge of poaching came in handy as well as other practical skills he learned from his war days. A friend of theirs, Duncan wonders why Hugh didn’t stay in the army as he would have been fed and watered rather than starving in the open air as he has been. Hugh explains he isn’t the fighting type in a war situation; though he isn’t a coward, if he has to fight for him and Terry’s sake, he will stand his ground. 

Although this isn’t a science fiction novel, it is an alternative history written from the perspective of a future war where two people try to survive in the Scottish Highlands and what it would be like and how long they could live before starvation took effect. Ian Macpherson’s other works are just as hard to categorise; Happy Hawkers, Shepherd’s Calendar, Land of Our Fathers and Pride in the Valley all give great accounts of the outdoors life in Scotland that is simpler, free of war, but comes with its own dangers; predators and starvation. 

One of the main points of this novel is that Hugh is not a puppet of those in power, he felt glad of leaving the armed services as killing other men wasn’t what he was put on the earth to do, Terry is a more sensitive type in her own way and keeps him in check as Hugh has a tendency to stupid things in certain situations. What made me want to read this was the thought of what past authors would write about future wars and how they think they would play out. Wild Harbour gives solace to Hugh and Terry, there would be peace, but only for a while as the war will inevitably come to them. With an introduction by Timothy L. Baker, Ian Macpherson’s novel gives enough of an account of how Hugh and Terry’s survival does play out, and how they can hope to avoid becoming cruel and vicious through it all.