Cal Flyn, an investigative journalist and nature writer visits the eeriest and most desolate places on Earth that due to war, disaster, disease, or economic decay, have been abandoned by humans. What she finds every time is an "island" of teeming new life: nature has rushed in to fill the void faster and more thoroughly than even the most hopeful projections of scientists.
A few of Flyn’s destinations are firmly established on the dubious ruin-tourism trail...But she also visits unfamiliar places ... Her account of her journey to Swona is among the most haunting in this memorable book ... Modern nature writing has evolved to be a little more tough-nosed than it was in the days of Evelyn Waugh’s feather-footed questing vole, but it can still be blighted by a self-conscious high style. Flyn, a journalist, thankfully keeps a tight rein on this, writing taut and interesting descriptions of the places she visits, deploying artful images and unobtrusive wit. The arsenal of facts and figures is well targeted. Only at the end of each chapter does the high style creep in. Sentences shorten. Swallows wheel. The page turns. But it’s kept to nontoxic levels ... gives us grounds for hope, while not understating the huge task that awaits us in changing course away from catastrophe ... This is a fresh, provocative and valuable book.
... brave, thorough ... fascinating, eerie and strange. And because the author has chosen to, it eventually nudges towards the optimistic ... There is some thrilling writing here, a fine way with the telling detail, and a plea for radical revisioning of what we mean by 'nature' and 'wild'. One wonders if there is a Pollyanna-ism at work, a willed optimism that might provide licence for future destruction because, we might say, sometime in the deep future, life will prevail. Flyn is alert to this, acknowledges that she is focusing on the silver linings – and acknowledges, too, the heavy losses that will result from global warming. The pockets of enticing abandonment we create with a mine here or a quarry there will be as nought to the Earth-changing, human-induced climate change. When it comes to planetary impact, 'We are the meteor, we are the volcano.' And what will survive of that?
While her travels to these locations 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.