Ruth – Recently married to a widower with two boys. She has just moved into the large house in North Berwick, and is finding herself alone more often than not. Her two stepsons are sent off to boarding school and her husband works away in London a lot. It is shortly after WWII, and Ruth is still mourning the loss of her beloved brother who was a war casualty. As time goes on, Ruth’s new marriage deteriorates. Her husband, Peter, treats her with disdain, condescension, and turns his lies on her – telling her that she is imagining it… The locals are an eccentric lot, especially the Reverend Jon Brown.
Vivienne – Ruth’s granddaughter, lives alone in London. After the death of her father (Ruth’s stepson Michael), she is given the task of going to North Berwick, Scotland to inventory the contents of the family home. Recently, Vivienne had a breakdown which put her in a ‘hospital’ for a few weeks. Her father’s brother, her Uncle Christopher, pays her to inventory the contents of the house which is for sale. As he expects the sale to take quite a while, he enlists her to stay on there as a sort of caretaker. Vivienne meets an eccentric, flamboyant, and quite manic woman named Maggie, who is a self-proclaimed witch.
Sarah – centuries ago Sarah was deemed a witch. Young men were intent on raping her before burning her body. A preacher broke up the intended crime and gives her refuge in his home. Then, because of condemnation by their neigbours in the community, the family are driven from their home and made to go ‘on the run’, taking the girl Sarah with them.
The setting was absolutely spectacular. The large house on the North Berwick shore with the Bass Rock looming in the view from the windows.This is my first Evie Wyld novel and I found the writing to be an unusual and artistic blend of feminine angst, magical realism, and gothic melodrama – there is even a wee ghost.
Of the three women protagonists, I found Ruth’s story to be the most compelling. Her loneliness. Her husband’s abominable treatment of her…
Vivienne’s character was troubled, and reading her authentic voice was downright disturbing at times. She seemed deeply unhappy, drank to excess, and didn’t eat well. Her actions and thoughts were told in almost a stream of consciousness technique. Her interactions with the quirky Maggie felt almost ominous.
It bothered me that the women in this novel turned to drink at the slightest provocation. I don’t mind a drink or three myself, but their drinking seemed over excessive and made them seem weaker than they were.
Although this is not a crime novel, it did contain many crimes within its pages.
The theme of this novel covered several topics such as loss, loneliness, misogyny, and crimes against women over the years. It has an overall dark and unsettling tone, and reads as feminist fiction. It expounds on the centuries of hurt that men have inflicted on women. It portrays men as mostly selfish and predatory. Perhaps I’ve been lucky, but tarring all with the same brush made it seem as though the author belabored the vilifying of men.
The writing itself was beautiful in places. The atmosphere and pathos were astounding.
I realize that this story might not be for everyone. The tone, the subject matter, are not to everyone’s taste. This is award-winning, literary fiction, deserving of acclaim, yet it leaves this reader with an uncomfortable feeling. Perhaps it was meant to?
This review was written voluntarily and my rating was in no way influenced by the fact that I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from Pantheon Books (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group) via NetGalley.
Evie Wyld‘s debut novel, After the Fire, A Still Small Voice, was shortlisted for the Impac Prize and awarded the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. Her second, All the Birds, Singing, won the Miles Franklin Prize, the Encore Prize and the EU Prize for Literature, and shortlisted for the Costa Best Novel awards. In 2013 she was named as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists, having previously been named by the BBC as one of the twelve best new British writers. She lives in Peckham, South London, England.
Follow Evie Wyld on Twitter @eviewyld