Shetland in the dying days of the nineteenth century is a community dedicated to crofting and fishing. At Norwik, not far from Lerwick, and in its surrounding area, the people are a microcosm of wider Shetland society. The urbane laird, the newly arrived young minister, the unconventional local teacher, and the bluff owner of the shop are cruxes around which the crofting and fishing families circle.
Beautiful young Inga Bolt is the daughter of the shop-owner; Bob Ertirson is an intense young fisherman who has been captivated for years by her, since they knew each other as children, though he's not been given a great deal of encouragement. Inga has been away for a good while with family in the more northerly isle of Fetlar, her return eagerly anticipated by Bob.
But now that she's back, her attention is immediately captivated by the new minister, Peter Mann. He is tall, dark-eyed, and strangely aware of her, yet somehow at the same time innocently unaware of the depth of his own feelings. The newcomer causes havoc in Inga's heart, and a great deal of resentment in Bob's. Peter and Inga's growing mutual fascination sends ripples throughout the small community, which extend quickly into dangerous gossip, jealousy, and rivalry. Will Inga and Peter come to more understanding? Or will Bob be able to finally capture her heart?
In Tang, J. J. Haldane Burgess deftly weaves comedy, passion and tragedy with compelling social criticism in a depiction of the searing and shifting currents in a small community. Tradition on the one hand, and freethinking on the other, form a backdrop of (often slyly amusing) contest to the key battleground of the plot. Burgess' novel is an extraordinary marker of maturity in the modern history of Shetland's literature, and is at the same time hugely entertaining and moving.