We end up galloping through decades, tripping on crisis after crisis. Oona’s psychology is vivid throughout, as is her mother’s; but the other characters are flat and roughly sketched. As a result, it’s difficult to care when any of these characters meet their demise, as several do. The joy of this book, though, is in Aitken’s prose, which is exquisite. We hear “the shuck and shush” of the waves, feel “a storm prickle in the air”. She writes with particular power when her characters are in extremis, “my mind was all a-wander, unfixed, unfixing. The sky and sea were boiling… clouds rolled in to eat the blue behind us”.
Her debut novel shows her interest in myth and folklore. Italicised passages at the end of sections bring an otherworldly feel to the book. Back in the real world, narrator Oona is a wonderful creation, alive on the page – a character with a hard life but who also brings many of the misfortunes on herself. In this, she recalls Liz Nugent’s charismatic protagonist Delia in Skin Deep. There are also echoes of Bernie McGill’s The Watch House. All three novels excel at depicting the hermetic communities and liminal landscapes of island life.