The Story Keeper is historical fiction set on the Isle of Skye in 1857 where Audrey Hart has been employed by Miss Buchanan to collect the folklore and fairy tales of the local community. The Highland Clearances have left their mark on the crofters leaving them suspicious and fearful, unwilling to talk to Audrey as both the clergy and schoolmasters have condemned their practice of the old traditions – the stories are being lost.
The novel stresses the importance of folk tales – stories that have been told to make sense of the world and reflect people’s strengths, flaws, hopes and fears. Such stories are interspersed throughout the book. When one by one young girls go missing from their homes the locals believe they have been taken by the spirits of the unforgiven dead. For these are not tales of good fairies, but of malign spirits that torment the girls they have stolen, sometimes returning them, ‘sorely changed’.
This is a novel full of family secrets and unfulfilled desires. There is a mystery about Audrey, her background and why she wanted to come to Skye. At first she believes there is a rational explanation to the girls’ disappearance but gradually she comes to fear that there may be something more supernatural behind it – linked maybe to the mystery of her mother’s disappearance years earlier on Skye.
It is beautifully written with vivid descriptions of the island, the flocks of black birds that whirl above the house that stands like an enchanted castle or a fortress on the coast. From a slow start the pace of the book rises to a crescendo in a dramatic and horrific ending combining the supernatural with reality, and tales of cruel fairies with the brutality of human beings. I loved the setting, the characterisation and the mix of history with folklore and fairy stories.
Thank you to the publisher, Tinder Press for my copy of this book for review.