The year is 1857 and a shy girl Audrey travels from her home in London to the Isle of Skye to work for the aged Miss Buchanan, a folklorist who is trying to capture the traditional tales before they disappear from the fabric of life.
The journey needless to say is arduous and we soon learn that Audrey is as much running away from something as she is running towards a new opportunity. On the boat over to the island she meets another young girl who is ill unnerving Audrey further still.
This is a beautifully written story but despite that the subject matter was not as appealing to me as the author’s previous book The Unseeing which I adored. I struggle with books featuring the supernatural and this book has confirmed that the stories passed from person to person in the oral form, however interesting simply lose their power because I couldn’t quite transport myself to a time and place where the superstitions they generated were seriously believed.
Once she was in her place of work, both physically and ordered about by those who she had to live and work for, Audrey got caught up in the local stories, when they were revealed to her. Storytelling being stamped out by the clergy who thought it interfered with their fire and brimstone sermons. And then a girl is killed and a strange spirit is blamed for her death. Audrey is understandably spooked the girl having washed up on the beach under her window.
In a separate strand of the story we find out that Audrey knows her mother spent time on the island as a young woman, it was from her that Audrey learned to speak Gallic and to love the folktales, although I’m not sure who would think it necessary to tell the brutal stories to innocent ears, these were different times! But Audrey’s mother died on one of the Scottish Isles and her father has refused to discuss the details with her.
In short we have superstitions, folklore and secrets and it seems as though everyone is determined to hide things from Audrey; the crofters don’t trust her with their stories, the woman who employed her and her nephew are oblique in their dealings with her and her father point-blank shuts her out of his life. With so few people talking the book frustrated me in the lack of forward movement which I’m afraid to say contributed to the disconnect I felt between the mysteries on the pages.
The author’s beautiful way with words came to the fore when describing the islands and recounting the history of the clearances of the crofters. These elements provided me with a deeper understanding of the life the men and women who lived on the Isles at this time lived. It was a poor life, the harshness heaped onto the challenges of the weather and the poverty by heartless landowners. The clergy and the gentry seeming to join forces to decimate a way of life that had been followed for years. We often forget that we can go back far further than recent history to find examples of careless disregard for other’s way of life.
I’d like to thank the publisher Headline for allowing me to read a copy of The Story Keeper ahead of publication on Thursday 26 July 2018.