I'm very envious of Linda Gillard. Although she now lives in Glasgow, she spent seven years living here (scroll down to the middle of the page, and you'll see what I mean) on the Isle of Skye. If you're a regular reader here you'll know I have a fascination with islands and coastlines, so I'm drawn to Linda's books and they are a bit escapist for me. Two of the three novels she's published that I've read are set partially or wholly on the Isle of Skye.
Emotional Geology is an "offbeat love story" between an older woman and a younger man both dealing with emotional or mental illness issues. I wrote about it here. I was especially appreciative of this novel as the heroine is a textile artist, and it's not often you find a needleworker making an appearance in fiction. Linda is not afraid to deal with sensitive issues in her books, which I think sets her work apart from so much else that's being written these days. Or maybe its the manner in which she deals with those issues--in a straightforward unapologetic way.
Star Gazing was a unique reading experience for me. Marianne, on the wrong side of forty, is blind. She's a rather prickly character, but I liked her. Imagine setting a story on the gorgeous Isle of Skye and then plunking down a blind character amidst all that beauty. Strangely it works. Actually the book is set in Edinburgh as well, which I imagine to be equally as lovely in its own stately and historical way. This is the first time I can remember where I've read a novel from the perspective of someone who's been blind her entire life. She has no frame of reference for all the things, big or small, that most of us take for granted every day. Until Keir came along. But I'll get to him in a minute.
Many years earlier Marianne was married and expecting a baby when tragedy struck. Her husband, an oil man, was killed in an explosion during an accident on an offshore oil rig. Dealing with the turmoil and anguish of her husband's death, made worse as the last words they spoke were angry words, caused her to miscarry. So she lives with her sister, a writer who's made her name and a reasonably decent income producing a series of vampire romance novels. It sounds a bit quirky, but Louisa was a great character and a nice foil to Marianne. Marianne lives as independently as she can, and it was interesting to see what sort of coping mechanisms she used to get by in a seeing world. She must rely almost entirely on her other senses, which are heightened due to her blindness, to navigate life.
One cold, wintry night she meets handsome and rugged Keir quite literally on her doorstep. They meet again by chance at the opera, and though neither is quite sure, the reader knows they're meant for each other. Really this story seemed to me to be about second chances. Sometimes first love isn't the only or best kind of love. Sometimes its what comes later in life that's the most fulfilling and real, only sometimes life wears you down so you might not know it right away. You only need to be willing to take the chance. Marianne and Keir click, their mutual love of music drawing them together. For Marianne music is how she can "see" things.
"Music gives some inkling of landscape. The sheer scale of orchestral music, the volume and the detail, can put me in touch with something much bigger than myself, take me beyond my personal boundaries, the world that I experience with my fingertips or my cane. Music tells me there is a wider world and what it might be like."
I'm hopeless when it comes to music, but had I planned better I would have looked for the works mentioned in the book and listened along. Keir helps Marianne "see" the beauty of his home on Skye, night stars included, and so many other things as well with the aid of music. Even my own imagination of what Skye must be like was broadened by the descriptions. Now I just need to go there myself.
Star Gazing was a wonderfully entertaining novel. The Isle of Skye might have been a bit of an enticement for me, but once again Linda won me over with a sensitive story of two very real and appealing characters. I became so wrapped up in Marianne's life that I admit I even peeked at the last few pages in anticipation of the outcome. And it doesn't hurt that there is a lovely romance, though perhaps not always a perfect romance at the center of things. Happily I've read that a fourth book has been written--"It's a mystery about an eccentric family with secrets. It may owe something to my admiration for Daphne du Maurier." I can see already that it's going to be another must-read (I wonder when it's due to be published?...). While I'm waiting though, I can see it's time to tackle A Lifetime Burning. I've heard many good things about it, but I suspect the subject matter is far more heavy than her more recent novels. In any case Linda Gillard is a writer I can heartily recommend.