Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Winter Sea (book review)

Susanna Kearsley is such a gifted writer I cannot figure out why her books are not better known. I sometimes wonder if it is because she is Canadian and there has been no major publicity machine behind her (as Alex Beam noted in the Globe today, although there are talented Canadian authors their bookstore bestsellers are all US imports). Like Mary Stewart (although perhaps without her warm humor), Kearsley creates a vivid sense of place and as Stewart did in Touch Not the Cat, she moves effortlessly from present to past, telling each story so compellingly that the reader forgets there is any other. The Winter Sea is Kearsley’s best book since Mariana. The contemporary story is told in the first person by Carrie McClelland, a writer of historical fiction, trying to figure out how to approach her current topic, early 18th century Jacobite uprisings in Scotland and those behind the plots to restore the Old Pretender to his rightful throne. When Carrie visits her agent in Scotland, she accidentally (but we know there are no accidents in fiction!) finds her way to a ruined castle, Slains, and begins to experience vivid dreams that inspire her novel. Carrie’s visions or memories are of a distant ancestor, a quiet young woman, Sophia Paterson, an orphan who is taken into the household of the Mistress of Slains Castle, the Countess of Erroll, and becomes involved in the Scots’ plotting through the kind relatives who have given her a home. Sophia is recovering from family tragedy and remains somewhat emotionally detached from the intrigue until she falls in love with a man who has dedicated his life to the Jacobite cause. She is a fascinating character (more interesting, in fact, than her creator, Carrie).

Experiencing Sophia’s memories inspires Carrie’s best work, although she cannot explain her connection to her ancestor, why her visions are historically accurate, and why she suddenly knows more about Sophia than her genealogist father. Just like Sophia, Carrie becomes somewhat involved with two men. But Carrie’s romance seems secondary to her writing, and she won’t be satisfied until she knows how Sophia’s story ends – happily or not…

My library got me The Winter Sea (UK title Sophia) from Vancouver but I plan to order my own copy soon. I have enjoyed all of Kearsley’s books, including a recent suspense novel she wrote as Emma Cole, Every Secret Thing, and recommend them enthusiastically. Oh, this book made me want to visit Scotland!

1 comment:

Jen - devourer of books said...

Ooh, this sounds lovely! I'll have to try to get my hands on a copy when the Sourcebooks edition is released.