Good golly. Getting back into writing on this blog is a rather strange and marvellous process. I must take the opportunity to apologise to all you Relishers out there for my mysterious absence over the past few weeks. A tussle with my internet provider (see previous post) followed by a wedding (NOT mine!) and a much-needed holiday has made for a busy summer where blogging, and sometimes even the glorious books themselves have fallen right to the bottom of the priority pile.
However, I have been lurking about on other blogs liking your posts and commenting for a couple of weeks and finally need to take the time to enthuse about one book that I have finished and thoroughly enjoyed over these past few weeks. A thoroughly decent yarn that I really needed to help me through the madness. Beyond the Sea is Melissa Bailey‘s second novel and her deft pen flourishes in this thoughtful, atmospheric tale of grief, love and loss.
Freya, a tragically widowed young woman is finally returning home to Ailsa Cleit; the remote Hebridean island where she lived in a lighthouse with her husband and son; both tragically killed in a boating accident. Escaping the inevitable fuss of her family (but not the attentions of her tireless sister Martha) Freya’s seafaring world is peopled by down-to-earth friends who are well-versed in the mysteries that lurk in the depths of the Atlantic sea.
Saturated in the rich history and mythology of her surroundings, Freya embarks on a journey of discovery, starting with the appearance of a mysterious stranger; Daniel, washed up on her shore as if by fate. Where this will lead her only the intrepid reader knows, battling through shipwrecks and ancient superstitions in a quest for a peace.
I’m a bit fussy nowadays and have recently started to make a concerted effort to read all of those wonderful books I have collected and compiled in lists over the years and that have, thus far, remained just that; lists on Goodreads or my bookshelf that never get read. I’m careful about wasting my precious reading/thinking time and only delve into things when I’m confident I won’t walk away disappointed. Although tales of grieving widowers aren’t usually my cup of tea, the promise of a windswept tale of myth and legend in an isolated part of the world that I love so much lured me in, and it didn’t disappoint. (I also took the fact that the woman on the front is clearly wearing my winter coat from Next as a good omen!)
This story is permeated with the history and legends of Scotland’s Hebridean islands, some of which I’m already familiar with and this helped pique my interest from the off (and those elements I did Wiki just out of pure interest were perfectly accurate, allowing for some extra brownie points). This beautifully barren part of the world was a pitch perfect setting to play out this family tragedy; poignant without becoming oppressively bleak.
Bailey quite smartly transforms what could, under another pen, become a maudlin, stagnant picture of grief. Here, she transforms her heroine into a Robert Louis-Stevenson-style adventurer on her quest for understanding, finding keys, clues and hidden letters that allow her to retrace her family’s last steps. This treasure hunt sweeps the reader up and across the waves and keeps the narrative rolling on sharply towards its fantastical ending. There are no wasted moves here, nor wasted words as we, along with Freya, follow both her own son’s diary and the saga of a tragic 17th century sailor through his letters to his wife, his fate eerily mirroring her family’s own sad destiny.
I have, as per usual, been busting to read something simple, well-written and absorbing lately and I thank you, Melissa Bailey, because Beyond the Sea did just the trick. Compelling enough to become invested in Freya and her lonely life yet light enough that I didn’t feel as if my head would explode. Marvellous stuff. The predictable ending I also had in mind for this story also didn’t materialise which greatens my admiration and respect for an author with a great deal of promise.