Scottish Island Fiction
I am always looking for new books to read especially if they fall under the category of Scottish Island fiction – a favoured topic I’ve been pursuing for many years. Recently a review of THE HOUSE BETWEEN THE TIDES caught my attention because it has all the elements I enjoy in my preferred novels but there was something strangely familiar about it. As it turns out I had read this book a couple of years ago under its previous title – BHALLA STRAND. I wasn’t sure why I hadn’t written about it back then but I decided to give it a reread. My library only had a copy of BHALLA STRAND but the author says on her website that they’re the same book. A quick gander at some reviews informed me that she changed the name of the house from Bhalla House to Muirlan House in its latest incarnation, but I will say Bhalla House because that is the name of the manor in the copy I now physically hold in my hands.
This is a dual narrative novel with Bhalla House, on an Outer Hebridean Island, being the link between the two stories. In the modern account (2010), Hetty has just buried her last living relative – her Grandmother – and subsequently finds herself the owner of an old estate on a sparsely populated Scottish Island. She is bombarded with advice but most of her counsel is provided by individuals with self-serving interests. One group – led by her sometime boyfriend – has ideas of making Bhalla House a hotel and playground for the very rich. Another interested party has warned her that the estate is far too dilapidated to save. Oh yes, there is a little matter of the skeletal remains found in the foundation. She is confused by the conflicting advice but she arranges to visit the island and do some research of her own.
In 1910, a newly married Theo Blake, a renowned artist, is bringing his bride to Bhalla house for the first time. He sees his much younger wife as a delicate creature and he is afraid that she won’t love the island and the house as much as he does. On the contrary, she adores the island; the wildlife, the clean air, the beauty, the ocean and natural plant life. But the house she finds damp and gloomy and Theo won’t hear of her plans to brighten it up with paint. It is also filled with dead things (stuffed and mounted but dead) There are grievances still simmering among the Island people, many of them were cleared out of their homes by Theo’s father in another generation, so he could build Bhalla house. During the summer, Theo and Beatrice entertain several groups of guests: mostly hunting enthusiast with bored wives. Many of the birds shot or collected are endangered and this infuriates the factor’s son and it is a source of more tensions. These underlying tensions and unexpected alliances prove to have consequences that will still be significant in Hetty’s time.
Hetty comes across as someone who is easily manipulated – at first. But she grows. She is still young and she is without a single family member to support her ( a tough spot to be in )
The concern for the birds really caught my interest. At one point Beatrice was attempting to keep Theo from finding out about a pair of divers setting up a nest on an island loch, before he could stuff and mount them. I did a wee bit of research and I discovered the divers are the same bird a Canada’s loons. We love our loons (we even put them on our money) and their call truly is haunting. This is just me learning something. Yeh.
I enjoyed both the storylines and I found Maine’s descriptions of the Island captured the untamed beauty splendidly. Giving a house such a central role isn’t new (Thornfield Hall, Manderley, Tara, ) but it works. This novel has mystery suspense, romance in a beautiful setting – a lovely novel.
Now I must explain why I didn’t write about this book when I first read it a few years ago because I do remember now. I read three books, around the same time, that were set on Scottish Islands. All three books involved turning an old estate into a holiday home of some sort. And (here’s the big one) all three books began with the discovery of human remains on the property. But I can see, with hindsight, that despite those similarities they were all unique stories.*
See also *
THE SEA HOUSE by Elizabeth Gifford (2013)
NIGHT WAKING by Sara Ross (2011)