ShortBookandScribes #BookReview – The House by the Loch by Kirsty Wark
Today I’m reviewing The House by the Loch, Kirsty Wark’s second book, which is out on 13th June in hardback and ebook. My thanks to Kat Burdon from Two Roads for sending me a gorgeous proof copy for review purposes.
Walter MacMillan is bewitched by the clever, glamorous Jean Thompson and can’t believe his luck when she agrees to marry him. Neither can she, for Walter represents a steady and loving man who can perhaps quiet the demons inside her. Yet their home on remote Loch Doon soon becomes a prison for Jean and neither a young family, nor Walter’s care, can seem to save her.
Many years later, Walter is with his adult children and adored grandchildren on the shores of Loch Doon where the family has been holidaying for two generations. But the shadows of the past stretch over them and will turn all their lives upside down on one fateful weekend.
The House by the Loch is the story of a family in all its loving complexity, and the way it can, and must, remake itself endlessly in order to make peace with the past.
I loved Kirsty Wark’s first book, The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle, so I was really keen to read this, her long-awaited follow up. It has a gorgeous cover and really, who wouldn’t want a house by a loch?
It’s set in the Galloway area of Scotland in the current day and also looking back to the 1950s. Walter Macmillan, his two children and their children holiday regularly on the shores of Loch Doon, where Walter and his wife, Jean, had lived as newlyweds back in the 50s. One particular get-together though leads to tragic consequences for the family.
The book looks back to when Walter met Jean, and the early years of their marriage. Living in a remote place suited Walter, but Jean not so much. Not everyone is suited to solitude and Jean certainly didn’t seem to be. We follow the ups and downs of their marriage in amongst reading about what is happening in the current day with Patrick and Fiona, their children, and Pete, Carson and Iona, their grandchildren.
I have to be honest and say that this book didn’t wholly work for me. I found it a bit slow and difficult to engage with. I didn’t really feel a great deal for the characters and even when something horrendous happened it all felt strangely emotionless. However, this is just my opinion and what suits one person doesn’t suit the next. There is some beautiful writing in this book, some very detailed and evocative descriptions of Scottish life, both in the town of Ayr and by the loch, and I do love to read about all things Scottish. It’s clear that Kirsty Wark has a fondness for the area. Having said that, I remember thinking several times whilst reading that it felt a bit like a sweeping American novel with the sense of space and the set up of the story.
I think this is a book that is very much character-driven and which takes a look at family dynamics. I think you will enjoy it if you like to take your time with a book, and to get under the skin of the characters. It’s very much about family relationships and secrets, and the effect they can have through the generations.
Kirsty Wark 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.
Kirsty has won several major awards for her work, including BAFTA Awards for Outstanding Contribution to Broadcasting, Journalist of the Year and Best Television Presenter. 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.