Christmas at the Island Hotel - Jenny Colgan


Day and night the great tankers plow the freezing water of the North Atlantic.

Vast up close—two, three hundred meters, filled with cars and rocking horses and teddies and barometers and valves and bonnets and tea—they are nonetheless still dwarfed by the scale of the ocean.

Coming in from the west, they cross imaginary lines in the water that the comfortable and landbound hear about only as they fall asleep to the shipping forecast: Rockall, Hebrides, and, over the north of Fair Isle, Mure, the tiny island between Shetland and the Faroes, home to 1,500 souls (in a good year).

The southwesternmost tip contains the village and the port, and the sailors—from the Philippines, often, and Thailand, the great seafaring nations of the South Seas—are about as far away from home as they can ever get. They look out, often, on the little point of light marooned in the ocean, eyes starved of diversion from the endless dark waves.

You cannot be a seafaring man if prone to melancholy—you will live away from your family, in close quarters with other men, for nine, ten months of the year, so a positive attitude is best. But even the most sea-hardened occasionally gets a little mournful for home, particularly when he pulls up the binoculars, sees the colored houses of Mure crowded higgledy-piggledy on the wharf, along with the soft gray of the café, the pink of the pharmacy, the black and white of the old Harbour’s Rest hotel.

There is no deepwater harbor on the island. None of the great container ships will ever land there. But more than a few like to mark Mure’s passing, as it is the last spot of land they will see before Bergen, and the cottages and buildings cluster together, heading upward from the waterside, in a cozy, haphazard fashion, as if leaning against one another for warmth on the bare island with its vast, empty pale yellow beaches and low-bending rushes.

Sometimes through the binoculars, on a clear day in the summertime, you can see the children wave.

But now, in the pitch black of an early winter’s morning, it looks like a tiny pinprick of comfort in a world gone dark, as they chug past, the huge ships making light work of the slapping waves, the motion so familiar as to make walking on land a difficult adjustment for the men.

The island is so small that, at twenty knots, it doesn’t take long for it to disappear behind you, for Apostil or Danilo or Jesus to go back to checking the radar and the fax machine, and to move on to North Uist, to the vast rich fjords of Norway, leaving the quiet island marooned once more under the cold stars, where, in the MacKenzie farmhouse, at the very southernmost tip of the island, the early-morning fire is going and the coffee is heating on the stove, and Flora MacKenzie is currently in the middle of having a furious stand-up argument with her younger brother, Fintan.

“COLTON’S BAR,” SHE repeated. “Absolutely not. I mean, I understand it, but also we sound like a saloon where girls wear hot pants and fringing and cowboy boots and ask ‘How y’all doing’ and we have a mechanical bull.”

“Nobody said anything about a mechanical bull,” grumbled Fintan, breathing in the scent of the coffee and the fresh rolls warming in the oven. Then he looked up. “Hmm,” he said. “Mechanical bull.”

“Do I have to take that coffee off you?”

Fintan rolled his eyes. “Anything but that.”

“Look,” said Flora practically. It had only been a year since Fintan’s husband, Colton, had died of cancer. Fintan had good days and bad days. This was not shaping up to be a good day. There weren’t many good days.

Colton had left him the Rock: the hotel he had always dreamed of opening on the island, and it was finally coming to fruition. But there were a million and one little details and he wasn’t enjoying that side of things in the slightest. The hotel had been useful: it had kept Fintan phenomenally busy and helped keep the grief at bay—sheer exhaustion was his friend when it came to sleeping alone in a very big bed. Plus, they had bookings for Christmas Day. They had to open, and quickly.

Flora technically had nothing to do with it.

But somehow, as she already had catering experience running the Summer Seaside Kitchen down on the shore, she couldn’t stop poking her nose in. Also she was meant to be on maternity leave, which, as far as