Star Gazing by Linda Gillard

This is the third book I’ve read by Linda Gillard and although I’m not much of a romance fan, I must admit that I do enjoy her romances. The reason I usually steer clear of romance is I find them too predictable but the same can’t be said of her books. She manages to get as many twists and turns into the storyline as you would expect in a crime/mystery novel.

Star Gazing is set in Scotland, mainly in Edinburgh but the action moves to the Isle of Skye for a while. Marianne Fraser is a young widow whose husband Harvey died in the Piper Alpha disaster on the 6th July 1988. If you aren’t of a certain age you might not know that that was the world’s worst offshore disaster, causing the death of 167 men on an oil platform in the North Sea 120 miles north of Aberdeen.

Marianne who has been blind since birth subsequently miscarried her baby which everyone tells her was maybe for the best, and a baby would only have made life complicated. Music has become her passion in life but over time she has developed a coping strategy to protect herself from life and people, but during one of her frequent walks in the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens she meets Keir.

Keir goes out of his way to describe experiences which the sighted population take for granted but Marianne can’t even imagine, like cathedrals and stars. Marianne is thrilled but she still has an urge to protect herself from men and Keir is damaged goods too. It all adds up to an entertaining and cleverly written book. As usual I’m just giving you the bare bones of the story, I don’t like to spoil it for people.

One thing that I did think was a bit strange though – the sense of smell plays quite a big part in Star Gazing, as you would expect from something about a blind person, but the smell of snow was never mentioned. I can see reasonably well but I’ve always been able to smell snow. I know when it has snowed overnight, even before I open my eyes, and I can smell it on the wind when it’s coming, so I would have thought that Marianne would have been able to smell the snow on Skye. What about you, can you smell snow?

Peggy, maybe you could ask your brother Donald if he can smell snow?

Library Haul and Scones

I had another bash at baking scones today. They’re something that I just can’t get right, usually they could be used as ice hockey pucks. This afternoon’s date scones are edible but they aren’t the lovely light consistency that I’m looking for and they didn’t rise much as usual, I think Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood would say that they’ve been ‘overworked’ – don’t know what else it can be.

Anyway to cheer myself up I went to the library. The main library is going to be closed for a year I think, whilst it’s refurbished so I haven’t been to a library for about six weeks. One of the many empty shops in the high street has been turned into a small library for the duration, it’s better than nothing! Actually I think it’s a good idea as the original library building isn’t exactly central and there are loads of people in the town who have never darkened its door. They just may get some new readers in Kirkcaldy!

I came out with:

The Odd Women by George Gissing. I think it was Anbolyn of gudrun’s tights who read this one recently and it was recommended in the introduction to Patrick Hamilton’s Slaves of Solitude. By the way, in case you don’t know yet, Anbolyn has done another ‘flit’ actually and virtually and her new place is looking spiffing!

Star Gazing by Linda Gillard – I’ve enjoyed her previous books.

Beatrice Goes to Brighton by M.C. Beaton – which I hope is going to be a hoot. I think this is one which Jo at The Book Jotter enjoyed.

Midsummer Night in the Workhouse by Diana Athill. I know nothing about this book and I chose it simply because it’s a Persephone, so it’ll be interesting to see what it’s like.

Now why did I borrow four books when I have loads of books of my own which I should be reading?! Oh yes, it was to cheer myself up after yet another scone failure. Does anybody have a foolproof scone recipe?

A Lifetime Burning by Linda Gillard

A word of warning about A LIFETIME BURNING: that’s definitely not one for the overly-sensitive! The content is pretty challenging (but there’s hardly any swearing as I recall.) STAR GAZING is a more comfortable read and can be given to anyone.

Obviously I was intrigued when Linda Gillard left the above comment on my review of her book Emotional Geology. It’s not that I’m overly sensitive but I’m always aware that some folks are. This is going to be a sketchy discussion of the book and the subject matter but I have to say that it’s a great read and not at all ‘tacky’.

A Lifetime Burning involves that most taboo of subjects – incest. Flora and Rory Dunbar are twins who have always been exceptionally close to each other and I think nowadays their family would be described as being dysfunctional. Their father was much older than their mother and so he was an old man by the time the twins came along. Maybe that’s why a blind eye was turned to things which should really have been tackled. It was easier to pretend that things weren’t going on than to face it and upset people. In fact just about everybody in the book is avoiding reality, which damages their lives and the lives of their supposedly nearest and dearest.

The action flips backwards and forwards in time between 1942 and 2000. I sometimes find books like that to be annoying but it wasn’t a problem with this one. I don’t want to say too much about the storyline but I did really enjoy this book, in spite of the shuddersome (is that a word) goings on. The subject was dealt with very delicately but I think that most of us would feel a bit squeamish at the thought of sexual relations between relations. I hope so anyway!

It’s a book which makes you think and I particularly liked the way Linda Gillard has the same themes repeating themselves down the generations. I’ve noticed that people often repeat the same mistakes which older family members have made, even when they’ve been completely unaware of the previous history. I suppose it must be genetic.

What makes some people hyper-sensitive to one thing whilst other people have a devil-may-care attitude to the same thing? I happened to mention to one of my sons recently that it was a pity that his brother’s girlfriend didn’t have a sister for him to go out with. My son was appalled at the thought : That would be like incest – he said! Lots of people have that sort of feeling though as often people won’t go out with friends’ ex partners as it’s all just too close for them. On the other hand there are plenty of people about who make it their mission in life to nick so called friends’ partners from them. Those were the ones who always wanted the toys that someone else was playing with when they were wee I suppose.

As far as I can make out incest normally happens between siblings mainly when they haven’t been brought up together and they meet each other when they’re adults. They say that they’re attracted by the things which they recognise, family traits I suppose. Which brings me to think that it’s more like extreme narcissism – taken to the nth degree.

I know that when I visited an Edinburgh mental hospital some of the young women were in there because they had been abused by their brothers and they were wrecks because of it. It makes you thankful that you were brought up in a normal family, whatever that may be!

I think A Lifetime Burning may be out of print now but might be available as an e-book.

At the end of the book Linda Gillard explains that music plays a large part in her life, as it does in the book due to the fact that the character Rory Dunbar is a well known concert pianist. She says that these are the pieces which Rory plays during the course of the book.

I just had to go on to You Tube so that I could hear them, so I thought other people might be interested too.

Beethoven Cello sonata in A, Op 69

Beethoven Piano sonata No 21 in C, Op. 53, Waldstein

Scott Joplin Maple Leaf Rag

Ravel Piano trio in A minor

Schubert Piano Sonata D.960 in B flat

Shostakovich Piano Concert No.2 in F, Op. 102

Shostakovich Prelude & Fugue No.1 in C

Emotional Geology by Linda Gillard

I’ve been wanting to read something by Linda Gillard for quite a wee while now but her most recent book is only being published as an e-book and I’m not sure about reading a whole book from a screen – I know, I’m a Luddite. Anyway, a big thank-you to Jo at The Book Jotter for pointing me in Linda Gillard’s direction. I really enjoyed Emotional Geology which was published in 2005, I borrowed it from the library.

It’s set in the Western Isles of Scotland, mainly on North Uist where Rose has moved after experiencing a very traumatic event which has sent her over the edge. Rose suffers from manic depression and the relationship which she had with Gavin, a mountain climbing fanatic, didn’t help with her fragile state of nerves.

What does help is her beautiful quilting which she has shown at exhibitions. She pours the feelings which she can’t express any other way into her work. Calum, a local teacher asks her to show some of her wall-hangings to his pupils and so begins a tentative relationship which Rose is not at all sure she wants.

Well that’s a brief outline, you might know that I don’t like to go into much detail in reviews. Suffice to say that it’s a really good read about a subject which isn’t often written about and Linda Gillard has managed to portray a real feel of the atmosphere of a Scottish island and the inhabitants.

Linda comes from England but she lived on Skye for a number of years which stood her in good stead because she is able to write exactly as the people there speak, and the folks in Glasgow for that matter too. It’s something which isn’t all that easy to do. There’s only one thing which annoyed me and I know this is nit-picking but it always drives me mad. It’s that ‘aren’t I ‘ thing. Nobody in Scotland says aren’t I – we always say ‘amn’t I’ and I maintain that that is the correct way of speaking as of course I and am go together but I are certainly do not! Calum says aren’t I three times in the book!!! I think that an editor has probably ‘corrected’ the original. It sometimes happens that actors say aren’t I, even when they are Scottish and I always wonder why they don’t tell the director that it’s wrong if they are supposed to be Scottish.

Anyway, that’s my only moan in what was a bit of a treat for me really because I loved the setting and as a child I was always falling over crampons, ice picks and rope belonging to my very much older brother and of course I’ve always had an interest in geology. The manic depression I don’t have, thankfully, but we probably all have a bit of experience of that, even if only at second-hand. But as a keen crafter and one who has tried my hand at the odd wall hanging and bit of quilting/applique I have to say that I really loved all the descriptions of the fabric, beads and sequins and the like, and even the bin liners and shoelaces!

One wee word of warning – if you have a very strait-laced mother-in-law then this isn’t a book which you should recommend to her as there is quite a lot of use of the F word and a bit of sex – unless you want some very hard stares from her of course!

I’m really looking forward to reading Linda’s 2006 book A Lifetime Burning which I’ve requested from my library.

I’ve just hopped over to The Book Jotter and seen that this is going to seem a bit like a Linda Gillard Fest as Jo has just reviewed a book by her today but it’s a total coincidence!

Library Haul

I’m not supposed to be buying books or even borrowing any from the libray at the moment, due to the vast amount of unread volumes in my house, but what are you supposed to do when you want to read something in particular. I had to put in a request for a Linda Gillard book as I want to see what her books are like. When I went to pick up the book I couldn’t stop myself from going in and having a wee bit of a browse the upshot of which is I came home with:

Emotional Geology by Linda Gillard

Wait for Me by Deborah Devonshire

Mary and The Wrongs of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft

Crime by Ferdinand von Schirach

All authors who are new to me, so it’ll be interesting to see what they’re like!