From the Ness to Westminster – ‘The Britannias: An Island Quest’

Alice Albinia on site in 2017.  (📷 Jo Bourne)
Alice Albinia on site in 2017. (📷 Jo Bourne)
Britannias cover

It’s always interesting to see who fetches up at the Ness and for three weeks in 2017, author Alice Albinia worked on site.

It was all part of her research into Britain’s islands and she has now published her book, The Britannias: An Island Quest, to great critical acclaim.

The book is about both the history of  Britain and Northern Ireland and modern life – travelling between a dozen or more different islands, beginning with Neolithic Orkney and ending at present-day Westminster, which was once the Thames island of Thorney, in the heart of London.

Alice’s chapter on Orkney, where she spent over a year, rather than the originally intended three months, includes her time at the Ness of Brodgar.

The Britannias is listed in The Times Literary Supplement’s 25 best history books of 2023 and has received much praise.

“A strange and beautiful book… An unconventional history that lingers in the imagination.”

A Times Book of the Year 2023

“Sparkling. . . . Rooting [her] stories in rigorous research . . . Albinia realizes her quest with panache. She inverts long-held assumptions about the periphery versus the centre and creates a history that is richer and stranger the further it travels from seats of power. Despite the mainland’s constant co-opting of island cultures over the centuries, her brackish motherlands still burst with poetic life.”

Gavin Plumley, Country Life

“By looking more closely at the periphery, we might learn something new about the centre … Albinia’s prose is impressive … the main impression given by The Britannias is the uniqueness of our outlying islands, each one entire unto itself.”

Guy Stagg, Financial Times

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