Book Review – The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld

I nearly didn’t review this book.

Not because I didn’t love it, but because I wasn’t sure I could find the words to do it justice.

The Bass Rock was one of those books that I was immersed in completely and immediately. I kept telling myself to slow down, savour it, don’t rush. But I didn’t. I devoured it.

There was so much I loved about this book, that I almost don’t know where to begin…

At it’s heart is the story of three women. Sarah’s story is in the distant past. A young girl, accused of being a witch, blamed for hard times and disease that had befallen her village.

Ruth’s story begins in the period after the Second World War. After losing her beloved brother in combat, she has married a widower, Peter. Living in a large house on the shores of North Berwick, transplanted from her London life, Ruth is trying to get to grips with being a wife and a step mother to Peter’s sons.

And finally, in the present, we meet Viv. Having recently lost her father, she too is struggling with her grief and an apparent lack of purpose in her life. She has been sent to Berwick to clear out her Aunt’s house.

The stories of the three women are woven together in a stunning narrative. There are ways in which the women are physically connected, which emerge throughout the novel. But most importantly they are tied by themes and experiences which focus on the treatment of women throughout history.

This book has a a number of core and important messages which I will try and uphold the brilliance of. However I just want to take a moment to highlight the skill of the writing within these pages.

There were so many phrases that just took my breath away. Evie Wyld has that rare ability to weave words in such a way that the reader is able to paint truly vivid pictures in your mind. Whether it is simple description of a dog stretching…

The dog stretches out her long legs and spreads her toes, groans with the weariness of a saint.

The Bass Rock – pg 187

…or the interaction between a man and his wife in church…

A man coughed and was shushed by his wife. The man held up his palms. What would you have me do, choke to death? And the woman shook her head. I’m not listening to you. The man settled back against the pew and the woman stayed so still and so straight it seemed she might lift off the seat and float in irritation to the ceiling of the church.

The Bass Rock- pg 84.

…the clear simplicity of the writing means you are there. As a reader you are present within this novel and for the message it brings home this feeling of connection is so important.

When we meet these three women they are all somewhat disconnected from the world. All are grieving, all feeling the effects of lost and all seem to be on the outside of their lives looking in. There is a sense of these women trying to find their place in the world, trying to push back against a complex web of family relationships and past grief.

Within this context, this novel is a meditation on the treatment of women. Despite some hard scenes of physical abuse, the most striking and distracting element to the narrative is the inherently casual nature of the abuse of women. There is recurring and underlying feeling that it is, and always has been, expected and indeed accepted that women will be mistreated, minimised and ultimately silenced.

The men portrayed in this novel aren’t comic book villains. They are rounded, functioning, successful participants in normal life, each displaying a softer side. So when the pivotal moments of abuse occur, it’s ingrained and almost incidental nature is even more shocking. Through their words and deeds Wyld upholds a sickening sense of inevitability; that men will use women, that there will be reasons and excuses, and that blame will always lie with the female of the species.

This is the key thread that binds these women. With it’s reoccurring motifs of foxes, wolves and dogs there is the pervading sense of the hunter and the hunted running through the pages.

But there is hope, and that hope is found in the ties that bind the women themselves. The answers are found in the shared history of these women, both within the present, the recent shared past and the more distance past. For this novel has a supernatural element, a gentle and ongoing presence in the house which never feels out of place or contrived. Instead it feels essential, as if some female presence in the house is bearing continuous witness.

This book is stunning. It made me laugh, it made me angry, it made me hope. It has important things to say, and it deserves every ounce of the praise that is being heaped upon it.

This one is a must read.

Rachel x

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