Portia Simpson was the first woman to qualify as a gamekeeper back in 2003. In her book The Gamekeeper she talks about her journey from the girl who wouldn’t stop climbing trees and muddying her knees to the first woman to graduate as a gamekeeper and beyond.
At its heart the book is a clear homage and love letter to the places where the author has worked, lived, and loved. The narrative follows the author’s life and moved easily through the early stages of her career until the comes to the Isle of Rum and follows all the way up to the end of her gamekeeping career and where she is at the moment.
I enjoyed this book, it was a lovely demonstration and explanation of the kind of life that a gamekeeper leads. It was interesting to see the seasonal shifts in their lives, the way that they would go between jobs hunting deer across that season and then move once that was over to another job that they could find in between.
It was also a wonderful insight into the processes and business of the nature reserves and how they work. I hadn’t realised that people could pay to go stalking with the gamekeepers (although, why wouldn’t you?) to bring home the deer, neither did I appreciate the structure of having the keepers go out and the ‘ghillies’ would come and collect the shot deer either on ponies or quadbikes.
The love that the author has of the places she’s lived absolutely shines through, especially once the story of her life reaches the Isle of Rum. Above all else Portia Simpson clearly found her heart-home there.
Throughout the entire book the prose is absolutely clear and lively. I wasn’t blown away by the power of the writing at any point but it was good nonetheless.
To give this a proper review I will be discussing some of the details that happen at the end of the book, so if you wanted to read this and have everything come as a surprise to you then I’d recommend you stop here!
I don’t want this next part of the review to sound like a would wish bad fortune on anyone but the blurb of the book says that the author gives an intimate account of the ‘heart-wrenching lows and magnificent highs’ of her work and life. However, I never felt that there was anything that would warrant the description of a ‘heart-wrenching low’. As I say, given this a non-fiction book about someone’s life I think that’s a good thing(!), but I do quite like a bit of an emotional journey and as Portia is a strong-minded person who knows what she wants and how to get it this wasn’t as strong as it could have been. Perhaps it’s the straight-forward and pragmatic way in which the author deals with her low moments that I didn’t feel they were ‘heart-wrenching’.
And something that was a little incongruous to the rest of the book was the ending. After we find out that the author has had to switch her career for something less strenuous on her injured knees she decides to end with a comment about finding a man and that an ability to cook would be greatly appreciated too. Considering the fierce way that she has portrayed her life up to that point – willing to do whatever it took to become a female gamekeeper in a very male oriented business – it felt almost like a betrayal after 350 or so pages of independent living.
Regardless, this was a thoroughly enjoyable book and if anyone has any interest in the great outdoors, the wild and almost untamed wilderness of the Scottish islands then I would heartily recommend this book. Equally, if you know of any girls who need a role model who can show them that you can do whatever you set your mind to then I would recommend this book. It’s a great read for anyone and everyone.