When the Wind Blows by Marguerite Steen
Publication date: 31st March 2017
Genre: Literary Fiction, Mystery & Thrillers
Length*: 5 hours 30 mins
(*based on the time it took me to read this title)
My rating: 3 out of 5
On Calvary, the wind never stops…
In the south Atlantic Ocean, sits the island of El Secredo – named Calvary by the first missionary settlers. Little has changed in Calvary since Jebusa Horne first landed on the island and proclaimed it fit for Christendom, in the late 19th century.
The world, meanwhile, has been through a Great War; prohibition and the jazz age have been and gone… When Reverend Smith Prudhomme and his wife came to continue the missionary on Calvary, at worse the Reverend had been warned of ‘Calvary beer’.
What he didn’t expect was Sanchia Mullyon.
Even as a child, Sanchia was different from the rest of the islanders. Spirited, questioning and highly imaginative, the islanders’ were disturbed by her apparent wildness – as wild as the winds that batter Calvary. Scared by her, both her parents and other elders tried to literally beat what they see is the ‘devil’ out of Sanchia. But cruelty begets cruelty and Sanchia becomes known for her brutal cruelness – both from her strength and her words. The only thing Sanchia seems affected by is the island and its animals; it’s well known she can’t bear to see the suffering of animals. Sanchia is now of marriageable age. And on an island that has an influx of men, women are highly prized.
She was promised in her cradle, to Gregory Jodrell; but in her usual fashion, Sanchia refuses to marry not only him, but also any other Calvary man. With a sense of unease in the island community, Reverend Smith is unsure of how to approach the problem. Moreover, Sanchia and by extension, his sympathetic wife Mrs Prudhomme, are chipping away at his once narrow minded views…
Then one stormy night, Sanchia in fear for her life, demands to be married to Gregory, right then and there. Even though it flies in face of all tradition, bordering on insulting, Reverend Smith marries them anyway. If the Islanders had hoped it would ‘tame’ Sanchia, they were wrong. If anything, she’s tamed Gregory.
And when a shipwreck lands the writer, Miss Lenox Robbins, and a mysterious man who can’t talk on their shores, Calvary and Sanchia are forever changed…
A gripping and intense novel, When The Wind Blows is a tale of a woman’s fortitude in the face of her home and community.
This is an e-book ‘reprinting’ of a title originally published in hardback and paperback in 1975. The author, Marguerite Sheen was a British writer who died the same year as this book was originally published. Her first major success was Matador, published in 1934, which was picked up by the Book Society in Britain and the Book of Month Club in the US. Her book The Sun Is My Undoing (published 1941) was a best-seller, both in the UK and the US, and was the first part of a trilogy saga about the slave-trade and Bristol shipping. Although she never achieved critical acclaim, she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1951. Her life spanned the Victorian, Edwardian, and modern eras and her observation of unprecedented societal, cultural, and technological change is evident in this novel.
It took me a little time to get into the story – my notes on the opening pages contain comments referring to what felt like odd wording, however the unusual and old-fashioned language soon reveals it’s character, lending itself to delicious phrases such as “filling them brimful of churned white water and spray” and “leaving them exposed like the vertebrae of some prehistoric monster”. Although this contributed to an opening which felt a little slow to begin with, it soon puts you into the mindset of the island and its inhabitants, who all speak with a heavy dialect, whose root I couldn’t decipher, but reminded me of the dialect used in Tony Harrison’s The Nativity. Be prepared, too, to have your dictionary and notebook at hand – words like “frowardly” (of a person difficult to deal with) and “pusillanimity” (showing a lack of courage or determination), which are little heard these days but feel delightful to say, are scattered throughout the book.
What is striking about the island of Calvary is not just its remote south Atlantic setting, but that nature has seen fit to make males so abundant that the birth of a girl is hoped for and celebrated. Whilst this could have lead to a matriarchal society, this is tragically not the case, with the female’s role being one of servitude amongst a militantly patriarchal structure.
Sanchia, as the only available female of marriageable age, is promised to George Jodrell, the most eligible bachelor on the island. As children of the two families which represent a kind of aristocracy on the island, they are expected to continue both their bloodlines. This duty is held above all else by the islanders since the predominance of men and lack of women mean that very few family lines will survive. George happily submits to this pressure, but wild child Sanchia rejects it, and all the customs and values of the island. Sanchia is desired by all of the men on the island, and the desires of Samson Hawkins are for, a short while, focused on, teasingly suggesting the possibility of a love triangle which never comes to fruition.
The shipwreck is when the story really kicks off and the tension and pace explode, with events and twists happening relentlessly. Perhaps, in this way, the narration is as unpredictable and forceful as the winds that batter the island.
The arrival of Lenox Robbins and the dumb man turn Sanchia and the island on their heads. Miss Robbins provides a refreshing change of tone with her polemic and self-important English, directly challenging the island’s way of life, the way the islanders think, and places blame unapologetically at the feet of Reverend Smith Prudhomme, who she thinks should make use better use of his position. She brings humour with her blunt observations and inability to stay out of other people’s business. The dumb man, unable to speak, due to the shock of his shipwrecking, is mysterious and intriguing, and given the fact that he contributes no dialogue, is nevertheless charismatic.
The latter part of the book moves with extraordinary pace, and the stakes are continually raised to the extreme, providing unpredictable twists that keep you on your toes and continually guessing how this will all end. Given the extraordinary end climax that the book builds towards, the very ending felt a little disappointing, as though it had been cut short by a page or two. All the same, this was an enjoyable read, and a brave undertaking of both narrative choices and a cast of characters, for whom my sympathies continually swung for and against.
Thank you to Netgalley and Endeavour Press for providing me with a Kindle copy of this book.
My Rating: 3 out of 5
When Mahony returns to Mulderrig, a speck of a place on Ireland’s west coast, he brings only a photograph of his long-lost mother and a determination to do battle with the village’s lies.
His arrival causes cheeks to flush and arms to fold in disapproval. No one in the village – living or dead – will tell what happened to the teenage mother who abandoned him as a baby, despite Mahony’s certainty that more than one of them has answers.
Between Mulderrig’s sly priest, its pitiless nurse and the caustic elderly actress throwing herself into her final village play, this beautiful and darkly comic debut novel creates an unforgettable world of mystery, bloody violence and buried secrets.
I received an ebook ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to NetGalley and Canongate Books for providing me with this copy.
There is something Stephen King-esque about this novel. The combination of a small “local village for local people”, a suspected murder, untruths, half-truths, deception, and a smattering of the supernatural could easily come from King’s fictional town of Castle Maine. Instead the book sends us to a village in rural Ireland, but with all the same ingredients. It works well.
Mahony arrives in Mulderrig from Dublin, cocky, charmingly scruffy, with the requisite murky past, and a score to settle. He was given to an orphanage as a baby, and knows nothing more of his heritage than the photo he has of his mother. He wants answers, and is unlikely to get them easily.
The story jumps between two timelines: Mahony’s present (the 1970’s), and his mother Orla’s (the late-1940’s). The timeline is indicated at the top of every chapter, which is useful for clarity, but becomes repetitive where there are multiple chapters in a row from the same timeline. The use of two timelines doesn’t feel entirely necessary as Orla’s timeline is much less used and less developed, but does add a few suspenseful scenes and leaves a sprinkling of cliff-hangers through the book which certainly add to its page-turning qualities.
As Mahony seeks to find out who his parents were, and what happened to his Mother, he inevitably makes friends and enemies. A fringe few share his suspicions that his mother met an unsavoury fate. The majority are happy to follow the village-line that the she just left town one day, and it was Orla herself who gave Mahony to the orphanage. Those who consider themselves the guardians of the town’s morality naturally take offence to his questions, and seek first to derail his enquiries, and then to derail Mahony himself.
Mahony’s roguish ways lead to threats made against him, and some to fall in love with him. Their desires become helpful and obstructive by equal measure.
The pinnacle moment comes when the unseen forces of the village seem to step in. The aftermath reveals everyone for who they truly are, and answers are finally unearthed.
This small-town supernatural mystery-thriller is a fun read. Whilst the writing is a little clunky in places, it is nicely plotted and executed. It is easy to keep turning the pages, and rewards with a near-apocalyptic climax and a neat, satisfying ending.
This is a great first novel from Jess Kidd. I look forward to reading more of her titles in the future.
Eden Burning by Deidre Quiery
Publication date: 01 October 2015
Genre: Mystery & Thriller, General Fiction (Adult)
Approximate reading time*: 4 hours, 30 mins
Published by: Urbane Publications
Available at: Amazon.co.uk, Goodreads
(*Reading time is based on the time it took me to read it.)
Two families collide in a compelling tale of love, loyalty, and hate during the Troubles in Belfast, 1972.
Tom listened to Mrs McLaughlin’s brogues briskly clump across the marble floor towards the exit at the back of the Church. When the wooden door thumped closed, he looked around the Church to make sure that he was alone, then heaved himself to his feet, opened the Confessional, blessed himself, and in the darkness whispered to Father Anthony, “Father, get me a gun.”
Northern Ireland, 1972. On the Crumlin Road, Belfast, the violent sectarian Troubles have forced Tom Martin to take drastic measures to protect his family. Across the divide William McManus pursues his own particular bloody code, murdering for a cause. Yet both men have underestimated the power of love and an individual’s belief in right and wrong, a belief that will shake the lives of both families with a greater impact than any bomb blast. This is a compelling, challenging story of conflict between and within families—driven by religion, belief, loyalty, and love. In a world deeply riven by division, how can any individual transcend the seemingly inevitable violence of their very existence?
The story follows two families from opposite sides of their community, and seeks to explore their motivations, weaknesses, and humanity. It neatly shows how two families from the same community, so divided from each other, are linked in ways they couldn’t imagine.
What struck me most about this book, is that despite describing horrific events happening during a violent and turbulent moment in history, it is not judgemental, and doesn’t take sides. There is no sense that the author wants to tell you that one side’s cause was more righteous than the other’s; simply that the greatest tragedy is the actions that people on both sides were compelled to do in the name of making their voice and beliefs heard. This feels like exactly the right stance to take when describing a situation which was so complex, divisive, and emotive.
The writing is strong for most of the book, just becoming weaker towards the end where the strength seems to get lost to the description of the chaotic events that close the story.
The violence is described in some detail, and is not for the faint-hearted, but at no point did I feel that Quiery was indulging in making the reader squirm. On the contrary, the gruesome details are delivered factually, as though that’s just the way things were. There is a feeling of authenticity to the narration, which is what I think gives it power.
I wasn’t blown away, but I think that has more to do with my personal tastes than a reflection on the book. It has been a pleasant read, and I would recommend it to anyone wanting a taste of life in Belfast in the early 1970s, written by an author who spent her childhood there.