George Mackay Brown's short story 'Andrina'

Categories: Short Story

George Mackay Brown’s short story ‘Andrina’ has an element of mystery which leaves the reader in wonder and makes ‘Andrina’ an extremely pleasurable read. Andrina is an old sailor’s granddaughter who visits him as a ghost when he dies: however he does not know she is his granddaughter or that she is a ghost and is dreadfully upset when she leaves him. I think the main reason why George Mackay Brown is so successful in making the story an enjoyable read is due to the complex structure of the story, the setting and also its links to a mystical fairytale.

The story of ‘Andrina’ has a very interesting structure of a story inside a story. The outer story is in the present tense and concerns the old sailor in his daily routine. The inner story is in the past and tells of the old sailor when he was younger and of a love affair that he had. This structure makes the story intriguing as the reader at first does not know who the characters in the inside story are and thus it has a great sense of mystery surrounding it.

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Another interesting feature of the structure is the fact that it is cyclical in that it relates to the seasons. The story opens in the winter where the sailor is ill and feeling that he has lost his good friend and helper Andrina. It moves on in the inner story, where the sailor tells of his love affair with Andrina’s grandmother.

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The summer conveyed happiness and helped give the impression that they were deeply in love. The love affair ended in the autumn when wildlife died out and the sailor discovered a terrible secret about Andrina’s grandmother and then left the island. When spring returned in the outer story the sailor discovered Andrina was a ghost and why she had left. This let him understand and gave him the feeling of hope to move on. This structure is used to portray the inner feelings of the sailor and in my view is very effective.

As well as the cyclical structure, the earth’s elements are also referred to throughout the story. This reflects on the sailor’s old days and he often tells the reader of memories and links to the sea. One example of this is at the opening of the story when the sailor is describing Andrina – ‘She lights my lamp, sets the peat fire in a blaze, sees that there is enough water in my bucket that stands on the wall niche.’ Here the peat links to the element of earth and fire and water are also mentioned.

This helps the reader relate to where the seaman lived, in George Mackay Brown’s homeland of Orkney. The land here is windswept and the descriptions of the elements help the reader relate to how bare it is. The story could not have worked in any other setting. Another interesting point in this quote is the description of Andrina in that she ‘lights my lamp’. This is symbolic and shows how she gave the old sailor light and hope and also comforted him. She is referred to with this symbolisation throughout the story, which gives her the image of a kind, angelic figure. In the third paragraph she is also described with ‘I expected her with the first cluster of shadows…’ which has alliteration of the soft ‘s’ sound. This gives the reader the impression she is sweet and innocent.

George Mackay Brown literary skills are excellent in creating the right atmospheres to portray different situations. When Andrina did not come he used short sharp sentences to convey how shocked and distraught he was – ‘She did not come’ followed in the next paragraph by ‘She did not come again…’ The repetition here shows how he was lamenting his loss and wondering why she may not have come. In another section of the story, the sailor had a bad dream where he had flashbacks to previous events in his life. Here the author used short and long sentences to convey to the reader the fear that he was going through. This technique also highlighted sentences such as ‘It was a black night.’ which made the ordeal seem even more dark and terrifying.

The story of ‘Andrina’, and especially the story inside ‘Andrina’, has many comparisons to a fairytale, which helps give it an element of mystery. It has the classic main theme of love and the ideal setting of summertime. Not only is the language archaic, but it is also very simple, like in a fairytale, such as ‘…but on one particular day in early summer this boy from one croft and this girl from another distant croft looked at each other with different eyes.’ The sentence structure is very simple which makes it easy for every reader to understand.

The ‘tremendous perilous secret thing’ that the girl had to tell the boy also strengthens the mystery theme as the reader is, at first, left wondering what it is. The language in this section is very poetic, with lines such as ‘…lingering enhancement of twilight…’ This gives the reader the impression the situation was perfect and they were both very happy. In this section the reflection of the sea are also used, an example of this being ‘Far in the north-east the springs of day were beginning to surge up.’ This quotation conjures up two images, one of the two peoples’ love growing stronger and secondly of the sea surging and crashing about.

The combination of setting, structure and atmosphere make ‘Andrina’ an excellent read. The story could not have taken place in anywhere apart from Orkney and the windswept emptiness gives the story an eerie atmosphere. George Mackay Brown has the ability to put the story together and make the reader ponder afterwards on what actually happened to Andrina. The question of whether Andrina was real or whether she was just a figment of the sailors’ imagination is left for the reader to interpret in their own way, which means the story has a lasting effect for everyone.

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George Mackay Brown's short story 'Andrina'. (2017, Oct 27). Retrieved from

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