Thanks to Random House UK and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.
This book tells the story of three women whose stories are cleverly interwoven across time. The main setting is the area around North Berwick where the Bass Rock looms eternal. Sarah and Ruth’s narratives are written in the third person and Viviane’s is in the first person. This was quite an interesting approach for the author to take but it took a little bit of getting used to as a reader. There is an element of the supernatural in the story but the living are scarier than the dead in this particular tale.
I sometimes find these multiple points of view books a bit tiresome, but I think it worked really well here. The story itself was quite simple and I’d say it’s definitely more of a character driven story than a plot driven one. There is a real thread of mystery running through the text and I didn’t feel like the story flagged despite not having a breakneck plot and the supernatural elements worked well without being farcical in a modern setting. It has a similar vibe at some points to Melmoth by Sarah Perry although I enjoyed this book more.
Out of the three characters I probably enjoyed Ruth’s story the most as I felt like she was the most well-developed character. I really sympathised with her struggling to trying to fit in in the North Berwick community and having to cope with her awful gaslighting bastard of a husband. I also liked Viviane and she probably felt the most “real” of all the characters. I was overall a bit meh about Sarah, perhaps not getting much of an insight into her personality and inner voice was a deliberate choice by the author but I just struggled to see what she added to the story. Although I enjoyed the three different characters, I don’t think they were linked together particularly effectively, despite Ruth and Viviane having a family connection.
There’s a lot of uncomfortable moments in this novel but readers know this from the very outset. It’s a novel about three women but also a story about violence against women, and how the power men have over women manifests in different ways.