I’ve already admitted I don’t read a lot of historical fiction. In fact I tend to avoid it like the plague. Once I see reference to anything pre 1950s, my eyes glaze over and I lose all interest.
There are – however – a few exceptions. One of those is anything written by Kate Morton. Her books usually alternate between the then and now, and are somehow more palatable. And The House between Tides by Sarah Maine reminded me very much of Morton’s work.
The House Between Tides
by Sarah Maine
Published by Allen & Unwin
on July 1st 2016
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Following the deaths of her last living relatives, Hetty Deveraux leaves her strained marriage behind in London and journeys to Scotland to inspect her inheritance: her ancestral home, now in ruins. As Hetty dives headfirst into the repairs, she discovers a shocking secret protected by the house for a hundred years.
With only whispered rumours circulating among the local villagers and a handful of leads to guide her, Hetty finds the power of the past is still affecting her present in startling ways.
This book started a little slowly for me. I wasn’t immediately engaged in either the events of ‘now’ or those of 1910. I liked both of our main protagonists however: the somewhat down-trodden Hetty; and the coming-into-her-own Beatrice respectively and kept turning the pages eager to learn their stories.
Theo Blake’s family built Muirlan House and his father uprooted locals to build his stunning white elephant in the Outer Hebrides. Although his memories of the place are bittersweet, Theo takes his new wife Beatrice there in 1910.
When the book opens however, we’re meeting Theo’s sister Emily who’s taking ownership of the house and boarding it up – entombing it in many ways – in 1945. Where it lies dormant until inherited by Hetty Deveraux over half a century later.
The house is actually far more dilapidated than Hetty’s been led to believe. On her first trip to Muirlan Strand she meets local builder / surveyor James Cameron whose antipathy towards Hetty’s plans for Muirlan House is very evident.
In reality it’s not Hetty who dreams of the luxurious hotel and golf course – she’s being railroaded a tad by her erstwhile boyfriend and his investor friends.
But like Beatrice (one hundred years earlier), once she’s there, Hetty becomes sympathetic to the needs of the local community and the beauty of the Strand.
This isn’t a riveting read, but it’s intriguing. The story unravelling in present day mirrors that of the early 20th century reflecting the debate between: respecting the needs and livelihoods of the local community and the area’s wildlife; versus development and desires of the privileged.
I did feel the novel felt rushed towards the end and the plot became a little convoluted – at a time when the complex events of the missing years were being unfurled. I read it again the next day… to make sure I understood but it still felt a little abrupt. Ultimately we receive answers through brief letters, which felt a little unfulfilling, after the achingly slow precursors.
It doesn’t match the elan of Kate Morton’s work, but is an interesting read and wildlife / bird lovers will enjoy the detail on offer.
The House between Tides by Sarah Maine was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.