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The Bass Rock Reviews

The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld

The Bass Rock

Evie Wyld

4.10 out of 5

12 reviews

Imprint: Jonathan Cape Ltd
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publication date: 26 Mar 2020
ISBN: 9781911214397
  • The BooksellerBook of the Month
5 stars out of 5
Alice O'Keeffe
6 Dec 2019

"Written with blistering force and righteous anger, this outstanding novel will stay with me for a long time."

The third novel from the exceptional Wyld follows her début After the Fire, A Still Small Voice (2009), and the multi-award-winning All the Birds, Singing, published in 2013, the same year she was included on Granta's once-a-decade list of Best of Young British Novelists. Here, Wyld explores the lives of three women across four centuries, all lived-in part-under the shadow of Bass Rock, which looms out of the water off the coast of North Berwick, Scotland. The first narrator is the instantly intriguing Viv, late-night shopping in a small supermarket in Musselburgh in the present day. The next narrative strand is set in the 1950s, where Ruth, brittle and self-contained and grieving the death of her brother during the war, has recently moved to Scotland to marry Mr Hamilton and taken on two step-children. Further back in time, in the 17th century, a girl named Sarah is accused of witchcraft and flees the village with a small group of others. As their stories unfold, each vividly told and compelling, the reader becomes aware of the violence and control levelled against women by men through the ages. Written with blistering force and righteous anger, this outstanding novel will stay with me for a long time.


3 stars out of 5
Beejay Silcox
18 Apr 2020

"Ferocious and brutal reckonings"

Is re-enactment the antidote to our “vast and infinite” amnesia? It’s a question that haunts the art of the #MeToo era: can (must) we hurt women to prove how women are hurt and hurting? It is telling that the novel’s most potent moments come not from its scenes of violence but from the cell-deep anticipation of them; not from a ruined body in a suitcase but a desperate mother packing that same suitcase in the hope of escape. The Bass Rock lacks the nuance of the author’s previous work (most notably, the wonderfully sinister All the Bird’s Singing (2013). Sometimes you need the blunt force of a rock, but for all the novel’s ferocious and bloody reckonings, it is as a testament to survival that it carries weight.

4 stars out of 5
Johanna Thomas-Corr
5 Apr 2020

"Three women, three centuries apart, are linked by their suffering at male hands"

The Bass Rock leaves a bitter aftertaste — nearly all of the men in the book are bastards of the first degree — but there’s much to admire in its little miracles of observation. A decomposing shark becomes an image of male aggression; the Bass Rock becomes a symbol of suffering. Meanwhile pregnancies — aborted or begotten by infidelity and rape — are a running theme. Wyld is also wonderful at describing moments of sudden lust and violence (there’s an electric encounter in a kitchen while Ruth is wearing washing-up gloves). And she knows how to maintain suspense, what to withhold and when to reveal it — right up to the spine-chilling last line.

3 stars out of 5
4 Apr 2020

"(A) Challenging and gripping read"

It’s Viv’s story which really shines and carries the book’s emotional weight. She’s a complete, troubled but sympathetic character and could drive a novel on her own. The violence in her life, and which runs through the book like veins in marble, means that even at its most vivid and gripping, The Bass Rock can be a grim read. Escape is possible, it seems to say, but only en route to the next act of destruction.

5 stars out of 5
Stuart Kelly
1 Apr 2020

"I will personally snub anyone who dismisses this book as a #MeToo novel. It is – importantly – written with dreadful clarity"

What is very clever indeed is to use the gothic as part of this bold book. In effect, it is as much as disguise as a predator’s balaclava. The gothic allows for a certain comfort zone, that horrors are supernatural, that the nasty thing in the woodshed is a ghost or a goblin. No, the nasty thing is a human man. There is a decent man in the book, and he is a lush, and berates himself for not being a murderer. Wyld has constructed an elaborate trap. It is not about millennial angst, or post-war stifled politeness, or historical witchery. It is about the war that seems unending.

5 stars out of 5
Emily Rhodes
28 Mar 2020

"masculine violence ... pulses viscerally throughout"

The book is not, however, only about the inherited and ongoing trauma of male violence against women. Ruth and Viv (who enjoy substantially larger portions of the book than Sarah) have fully realised emotional lives; we see them, for instance, struggling to cope with bereavement, form new friendships and work. What is so uncomfortable about this novel is its challenge to society’s long-held expectation of women to navigate life’s many complexities while constantly sidestepping an all-pervasive, terrifying masculine threat. It’s powerfully done, and no wonder Wyld’s rage erupts from the page as she bears witness to the women who fail to survive and searches for ways that others might. 

4 stars out of 5
26 Mar 2020

"The Bass Rock probably won’t make comfortable reading if you’re a man"

The Bass Rock probably won’t make comfortable reading if you’re a man, but if the subject matter sounds like a heavy relay of bloke-bashing, Wyld’s gossamer-light prose, beautiful even in its depiction of murder, brings nuance and complexity to the story. There are good men in the novel too - Viv’s Uncle Christopher is sent to an abusive ‘toughen them up’ boarding school but emerges whole and kind - and ultimately Wyld’s skilfully woven narrative will keep you turning towards a final, unexpected twist.

4 stars out of 5
22 Mar 2020

"a book that’s filled with menace"

It’s a long book, and Wyld’s slow, controlled build-up of dread is excellent. (The Sarah narrative feels unnecessary, giving us the creeps but little else.) Blackness and rot swim through the novel, from a shark decomposing on the beach to mushrooms smelling of rotting flesh. Looming over all time frames is the Bass Rock, “misshapen, like the head of a dreadfully handicapped child”. Most powerful of all is Wyld’s evocation of a hairs-on-the-neck sense of foreboding when women interact with volatile men. 

4 stars out of 5
Justine Jordan
21 Mar 2020

"a fearless vision of toxic masculinity"

It is, inevitably, a furious and painful reading experience: by page 10 alone, we’ve encountered a woman’s dismembered body in a suitcase, a disquisition on misogynistic advertising and a threatening stranger in a car park. But the novel is also psychologically fearless and, in Viviane’s sections, bitterly funny. Wyld is a genius of contrasting voices and revealed connections, while her foreshadowings are so subtle that the book demands – and eminently repays – a second read.

4 stars out of 5
21 Mar 2020

"Three lives, centuries apart, tell a haunting story of violence"

Wyld lets echoes trickle through the stories to link them further, and underpins the whole with a seething anger. That this last doesn’t overwhelm the novel is down to some skilful storytelling — Viv, in particular, with her sister Katherine (“sisters broken in entirely different ways”) and accidentally acquired friend Maggie (a sex worker who claims she’s a witch), studs the book with a desperate humour. There’s also a potent sense of place — North Berwick and its wild coastal weather, and the louring rock out to sea...

It is the quiet solidarity of women, ultimately — Viv, Maggie and Katherine; Ruth and the servant Betty — that provides the hope in this spikily beautiful novel.

3 stars out of 5
Catherine Taylor
20 Mar 2020

"The writer of the memoir ‘Everything Is Teeth’ fearlessly explores male violence down the generations"

Domestic violence, or the threat of it, floods the pages of The Bass Rock. It is best realised in Ruth’s sections — Wyld’s delineation of the era is cut-glass perfect: its clipped emotions, inherent sexism, automatic silencing of and putting away of “difficult” children and women. There is marital rape, a sinister ritual “game” of hide-and-seek between adults at a picnic, and a paedophile ring, exposed years later to devastating and lasting effect.

4 stars out of 5
Cressida Connolly
1 Mar 2020

" With great dexterity and style, Wyld illustrates how abuse forms a cycle that may take generations to break"

The Bass Rock is beautifully written and its particular brand of macabre is all Evie Wyld’s own. The tension, foreboding and sense of inevitability are hard to shake off, even once the final page is turned. Its atmosphere is so powerful that you feel you need to go for a walk afterwards to blow the shadows away. Just not along the coast of Scotland.