Malachy Tallack has been passionate about fishing since he was young. Growing up in Shetland, with its myriad lochs, he and his brother would roam the island in search of trout, and in so doing discovered a sense of freedom, of wonder, and an abiding passion.
But why is it that catching a fish – or simply contemplating catching a fish – can be so thrilling, so captivating? Why is it that time spent beside water can be imprinted so sharply in the memory? Why is it that what seems such a simple act – that of casting a line and hoping – can feel so rich in mystery?
Illuminated by Water is Malachy's personal attempt to understand that freedom, and to trace the origins and sources of that sense of wonder. He shares the appeal of fishing, its intense joys and frustrations, the steadying effect it has both at water's edge and in the memory, and the contemplation of nature and landscape that comes with being an angler. He writes about fishing expeditions, from English canals and Scottish lochs to lakes in Canada and New Zealand, and he reflects on other aspects of angling, from its cultural significance and the emerging moral complexities to the intricacies of tying a fly.
Beautifully written and hugely engaging, this book both articulates the inexplicable lure of the river and the endless desire to return to it, and illuminates a passion that has shaped the way so many see and think about the natural world.
Malachy Tallack is the award-winning author of three books. His first, Sixty Degree North (2015) was a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week and short-listed for the Saltire First Book Award. His second, The Un-Discovered Islands (2016), was Stanford Travel Writing Awards' Illustrated Book of the Year, while his debut novel, The Valley at the Centre of the World, was shortlisted for the Highland Book Prize and longlisted for the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize. He received a New Writers Award from the Scottish Book Trust in 2014, and the Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship in 2015. He is a founding editor of the online magazine The Island Review and, as a singer-songwriter, he has released four albums and an EP, and performed across the UK. Malachy Tallack grew up in Shetland and currently lives in central Scotland.
"Malachy Tallack writes as deftly as he casts a fly. This book is illuminated by water, but also by philosophy, experience and a profound sympathy for the natural world. A delight."
– Luke Jennings, author of the Killing Eve novels
"A love letter to still, dark lochs and sparkling trout rivers; an account of a fascination and that deep-down draw we feel towards the water's edge. Tallack's beautiful book is full of interest, passion, and rich, buttery description. Wade into it, and let it flow through you."
– Cal Flyn, author of Islands of Abandonment
"A masterfully told fisherman's tale, which gets closer than most to grasping that slippery thing beyond the fish itself: the reason we are drawn to water, and what fishing can teach us."
– Jeremy Wade, author and presenter of River Monsters
"A memoir with a difference, beautifully evocative, suffused with the calm of many days spent fishing and thinking in tranquillity. The perfect gift for anglers everywhere."
– Gavin Francis, author of Island Dreams
"A beautifully meandering meditation on the mysterious allure of fishing. From windswept lochs to sluggish canals, Malachy Tallack grapples with big ethical issues about our place in the natural world as deftly as he does the fish."
– Lee Schofield, author of Wild Fell
"Attempting to explain the draw of fishing to anyone – even anglers – is like trying to explain the concept of infinity to a toddler, but Tallack combines his extensive experience on (and in) the water with an extraordinary knowledge of the history, literature and science of this most liminal of pursuits in this beautiful and engaging book."
– Shaun Bythell, author of The Diary of a Bookseller
"I loved it [...] I loved its attentiveness to place and animal, its elucidation of the unseen spirits of water and fish and it made me want to pick up a rod for the first time since I was a teenager. Tallack has written one of those books that transcends its niche subject."
– Stephen Rutt, author of The Seafarers
"In Illuminated by Water Malachy Tallackcaptures the true spirit of wild angling; where the twin pull of a magical location, and just the possibility of a fish, are what keeps anglers returning to cast throughout their lives. Truly, a beautifully drawn and thoughtful book."
– Will Millard, author of The Old Man and the Sand Eel
"A marvellous immersive reflection on the act and idea of fishing. The alchemy of angling acts as a springboard to explore our relationship with water, memory, the natural world, and trout, in stunning prose which put me in mind of Chris Yates and Alice Oswald. As Richard Brautigan once wrote of a man who had 'a way of describing trout as if they were a precious and intelligent metal' so Malachy Tallack's passion and writing cast a golden spell. A questing, vibrant, thoughtful book which delights in the beauty and mystery of its subject."
– Dan Richards, author of Outpost
"Both a fitting tribute to what Malachy Tallack calls "this deep attentiveness to time and place", and a vivid new species that glitters among the shoals of books about angling. As a non-angler, I was startled by his notion of "the peculiar idea that beauty might have something to do with fishing, or that fishing might have something to do with beauty". By the end of the book, I had the peculiar idea that the same could be true of writing about fishing."
– Jim Crumley, author of Lakeland Wild
"Tallack's stylish and sensitive writing captures all the dimensions of our wonderful fishing obsession in a way that reminds me of Nick Lyons and Norman Maclean at their best, those angler/writer masters whose ranks he now joins."
– W.D. Wetherell, author of One River More
"It leads us into the heart of the natural world which is our true home [...] a solemn, deeply considered, exceptionally beautiful, exhilarating book [...] a book to read, rejoice in, and come back to all your life."
– Michael McCarthy, author of The Moth Snowstorm
"Going back to Walton's The Compleat Angler, trout fishing has been the focus of a remarkable number of excellent books, but there are a special few, such as Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It and Tom McGuane's The Longest Silence, whose language is instilled with a beauty that fully befits the beauty of its subject. Malachy Tallack is such a writer, and Illuminated by Water is destined to be a classic, both as a memoir on trout fishing and, also, a meditation on life."
– Ron Rash, author of In the Valley
"Rich and enchanting [...] this book offers delight. It will surely have readers looking in the cupboard under the stairs for long discarded fishing tackle. And it also promises happy memories, happy reflection."
– Allan Massie, The Scotsman
"[A] beautiful journey into the world of the angler [...] while catching fish is the essence of fishing, it's the how, where and why that Tallack explores so engagingly here [...] a considered examination of what fishing offers mind and soul [...] by the end, you're left with a satisfying understanding of the mind and landscapes of both angler and his quarry. A perfect read."
– The Scots magazine