Two Roads|19 June 2019|384 pages|Review e-book copy|4*
I loved Kirsty Wark’s debut novel, The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle, so I was keen to read her second book, The House by the Loch. I enjoyed it very much. It’s a beautifully written family saga covering three generations. It has a strong sense of place and goes deep within the characters’ inner lives, hopes and fears. And as mysteries and secrets, losses and tragedy are gradually revealed I became totally absorbed by the story. At times immensely sad it is also uplifting. It’s set in Galloway in Scotland, south of Ayr near the Galloway Hills, mainly around Loch Doon.
The House by the Loch begins when ten-year-old Walter MacMillan witnessed a Spitfire crashing into Loch Doon in October 1941, based on a real incident. It was something he never forgot and he built a cairn as a memorial to the pilot. The narrative switches between the 1950s and the present day, telling of Walter’s marriage to Jean, a vibrant young woman when he first met her, his relationship with his children, Patrick and Fiona, and his grandchildren, Carson, Iona and Pete. They all have their problems and difficulties within their relationships, but matters come to a head one weekend when there is another tragedy in the loch.
This is a book that you need to take your time reading, a book to savour and reflect upon at leisure. It has a slow meditative pace as the beautiful scenery of the Galloway landscape unfolds in front of your eyes. But it is the characters themselves that kept me turning the pages, centred on Walter and his granddaughters Carson and Iona. Walter is an immensely patient man, but he was unprepared for the effect living in isolation in the house by the Loch had on Jean, who came to see it as a prison, and on their marriage and children.
Even the minor characters came across to me as real people – Edith, for example, Jean’s mother, an elegant beautiful woman who couldn’t leave her house and garden, feeling she might collapse, and her father brash businessman Billy. Then there are Marie, who helped Jean when she couldn’t look after Carson and Iona, Fiona, who struggled with her marriage, Elinor, Patrick’s wife and her sister, Meg and also Walter’s cousins who only come into the story in the latter part of the book.
Kirsty Wark’s love of Scotland comes over very strongly in this novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it reminded me of family sagas I’d read years ago – books that swept me along as the secrets of earlier generations impact on their descendants. It’s about family relationships, happiness, love, loss and heartbreak.
About Kirsty Wark
She is a journalist, broadcaster and writer who has presented a wide range of BBC programmes over the past thirty years, from the ground-breaking Late Show to the nightly current affairs show Newsnight and the weekly Arts and Cultural review and comment show, The Review Show. Her debut novel, The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle, was published in March 2014 by Two Roads and was shortlisted for the Saltire First Book of the Year Award, as well as nominated for the 2016 International DUBLIN Literary Award. Her second novel, The House by the Loch, has been inspired by her childhood memories and family, particularly her father. Born in Dumfries and educated in Ayr, Scotland, Kirsty now lives in Glasgow.
Many thanks to the publishers, Two Roads, for my review copy via NetGalley.