Review 1460: The Story Keeper

Audrey Hart arrives on the Isle of Skye to take up a position as an assistant to a folklorist in 1857. She has fled her family because of a situation that occurred during her volunteer work and because her father doesn’t believe a girl of her upbringing should work. She has taken a job on Skye because her mother, who died when she was a child, loved it there.

Upon her arrival in Skye, Audrey notices a croft girl who appears to be ill. The local people believe she was taken by fairies. The Buchanans, her employers, aren’t interested in what happens to a girl of her class. The minister thinks even Miss Buchanan’s story-collecting activities encourage superstition.

Audrey is worried, because she hasn’t been able to get the locals to tell her any stories so can’t do her job. But then she begins hearing about other young girls who have disappeared. No one seems to want to listen to her ideas that the disappearances may be related, not even the kind nephew of Miss Buchanan, Alec. While all this is going on, Alec’s father is enclosing his land and evicting tenants.

This is an atmospheric novel that nicely blends the folklore of the area with more sinister themes. Although I almost immediately figured out what was going on, if not the motive, I enjoyed the journey. This is an entertaining historical suspense novel.

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Review 1310: Classics Club Spin Review! To the Lighthouse

Cover from To the LighthouseWhen the Classics Club Spin chose To the Lighthouse for me from my list, I wasn’t sure how pleased I was. I first read it in college and remembered very little of it except that it wasn’t my favorite. On the other hand, our tastes change as we grow, and I had enjoyed Mrs. Dalloway.

The novel is divided into three sections. The first is about a day in the life of the Ramsey family, as they vacation on the Isle of Skye with their friends. The second is about the house and the passage of time. The third takes place there again ten or eleven years later.

Young James Ramsey has been begging for a trip the next day to the lighthouse, and both he and Mrs. Ramsey are irritated with Mr. Ramsey for so assuredly stating that the weather will be too stormy. The novel revolves around the presence of Mrs. Ramsey, a beautiful, quiet, assured mother of eight. Although we briefly see things from other characters’ points of view, the most prevalent are those of Mrs. Ramsey and of Lily Briscoe, a painter.

Nothing much happens in this part of the novel. The family doesn’t go to the lighthouse; Lily has difficulty with her painting, and although she has insight during dinner, she doesn’t finish it; Minta loses her brooch on the beach and accepts a proposal from Paul; Lily resists Mrs. Ramsey’s old-fashioned idea that she must marry and her attempts to pair her off with William Bankes. The action of the novel isn’t really the point, though, it’s the complex relationships between friends and family.

At times the narrative is a little hard to follow, because Woolf switches time and pronouns so that you don’t always know whether something takes place in the novel’s present or past or who is being referred to. The novel is impressionistic in its approach, both in its descriptions of characters’ thoughts and of the settings. Over everything is the strong presence of Mrs. Ramsey.

Time passes, the war intervenes, and the family does not return for more than 10 years. When it does, things have changed.

I enjoyed reading this novel, although I’m sure I missed a lot. I think it could be food for study and contemplation, but I did not have time to do so.

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Day 717: Wildfire at Midnight

Cover for Wildfire at MidnightGianetta Drury is more sophisticated than the usual Mary Stewart heroine. She is a model and the ex-wife of a writer. It is 1953 and London is filling up for Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation when Gianetta’s boss suggests she take a holiday and get some rest. At the suggestion of her parents, she travels to a hotel on the Isle of Skye. (It is because of this book that I formed a life-long desire to see the Isle of Skye, as yet unmet.)

Gianetta has only been at the hotel a few hours when she makes two horrifying discoveries. One is that her ex-husband Nicholas is staying at the hotel. The other is that a local girl was recently murdered on one of the mountains, her body found across a bonfire like a sacrifice. She is said to have been meeting a man from the hotel.

All of the men currently staying at the hotel were there at the time of the murder except for movie star Marcia Maling’s chauffeur. Mr. and Mrs. Hartley Corrigan are vacationing with Alastair Braine, an old friend of Gianetta’s, here for the fishing. Colonel Cowdray-Simpson, also a fisherman, would seem to be too old to be a suspect. The famous mountaineer Rodney Beagle is there, climbing during the day and listening nightly to the radio broadcasts about Edmund Hillary’s expedition on Everest. And there is also a bouncy travel writer named Hubert Hay, who is researching his next book, Sauntering Through Skye. The handsome Roderick Grant is also a climber, and he quickly shows a liking for Gianetta. And then there’s Nicholas. Unfortunately, none of the men have an alibi for the murder.

Very soon two other visitors to the hotel have vanished, two women who went climbing on Garsven, the same mountain where the girl was found. They were seen from afar climbing with a third person, yet everyone else has returned to the hotel. To her horror, Gianetta is also aware of some information that seems to implicate Nicholas. She begins struggling with understanding where her loyalties lie.

Wildfire at Midnight is atmospheric and suspenseful. Stewart was a wonderful writer, known for her evocative descriptions of exotic locales and for her engaging characters. I come back to her books for light reading again and again.

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