Larissa MacFarquhar on the Falkland Islands

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I harbor a mild but ongoing fascination with the wild, out of the way places that British people have decided they should inhabit; the far-flung islands, the unnavigable boggy moors, the places where there’s one house every few miles and people choose lonely, hard existence for whatever reason. St Helena, Dartmoor, the Hebrides, Pitcairn and so on.

Larissa MacFarquhar—one of the New Yorker writers I most enjoy—crystallizes what draws people to one of these places, the Falkland Islands, and happened when modern life arrived.

The manager might be the only local authority—he conducted marriages and assigned punishments; it was said that not long before Tim Blake came to Hill Cove a man there was fired for whistling.

Because drinking could be a problem, especially in winter, when there wasn’t much to do, the farm store rationed sales of alcohol. When a man grew too old for farmwork, he had to retire, which meant that he had to leave his house on the farm and move to Stanley.

But there was little for retired men to do in Stanley except go to the pub, and they often died soon afterward.

Photograph by Maroesjka Lavigne for The New Yorker.

The piece plays against convention, really. It has an arc, but it doesn’t really resolve. The people in the story only talk through her rather than through quotation or dialogue, aside from the odd moment when they are given space to speak in block quotes.

In fact there isn’t really a central character in the story, aside from the islands themselves, just a string of isolated stories that represent different strands of what has happened in the islands.

But I think I particularly enjoyed how carefully it avoided becoming a story about isolation. Obviously the pandemic creates a new window to view separation and distance—one that is easy to reflect back to the reader. She manages, though, to avoid hammering home the comparisons and finds a place for the story in the Now without ever giving in to it entirely.

Quietly powerful.

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