The Men of Ness was written by the Orcadian author Eric Linklater in 1932. The copy I read was the Orkney Edition, reprinted in 1960 which I borrowed from the Kirkwall Library while on a recent visit to Orkney. This book is one of the 50 classics I plan to read over the next few years. It also counts for the Read Scotland challenge as the author was Scottish and the book is set mainly in Scotland.
The book is written in the style of a Viking saga describing the hardships and violence of the times in a stark and understated way. There are references to the beliefs of the Vikings - their belief in fate, in the spirit world and the afterlife. The story of Gauk's wife coming back to haunt him provides some light relief in the book though not to Gauk!
I really enjoyed this book and found the characters were well written. Despite using very few words, Linklater creates clear pictures of the main characters. For example, Thorlief Coalbiter got his name "because he sat by the fire and would not go outdoors. He was a good lawyer, and though he spoke in a mild voice there was often great wisdom in his words." His wife Signy is described as "a very handsome woman, cheerful, hard-tempered, and rather greedy."
The action moves out from Orkney to other parts of Britain emphasising that the Vikings of this time were farmers and traders as well as being fierce warriors. The character of Gauk provides continuity in the story as he survives the fighting to return to Orkney and relate what happened to his companions. Gauk provides a contrast to the Vikings as he is a peace loving Orcadian farmer who does not want to be a hero.
As I am currently doing a course on the Vikings with the Centre for Nordic Studies, I found Linklater's description of life in Viking times to be historically accurate providing a balanced account of the period. He successfully weaves real historical events, many taken from The Orkneyinga Saga, into the story.