Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Book Review: The Blackhouse

Product Details

The Blackhouse by Peter May is the first book in a trilogy set on the Isle of Lewis off the west coast of Scotland.

[I first heard of the series from fellow blogger Adrian of Adrian’s Images, who has been praising them on more than one occasion. But what made me really interested to read them was that Lewis has come to feel familiar to me over the past few years through the blogs of GB (Eagleton Notes and A Hebredian in New Zealand) who actually lives there (well, six months of the year anyway!) – and his likewise blogging brother Scriptor, who occasionally leaves his Chair to go up there for a visit.]

The Blackhouse had me hooked right from the start because of the the author’s way with language and his vivid descriptions of the landscape and shifting weather and other details of island life that were already familiar to me from my friends’ photos. The characters in the story also somehow rang true to me; very much formed by the conditions of life in that environment, and traditions that go back generations, now clashing with the rapidly increasing influence of modern society and modern means of transport and communication.

The main character, a police detective, comes back to the island after many years away on the mainland. Besides the murder he has been sent there to look into, he is confronted with his own memories from growing up on Lewis. The story goes back and forth between the present day mystery to be solved, and things that happened in the past.

I don’t think I’ll say much more about the plot that that; only that there are quite a few twists and turns along the way, and that it got harder and harder to put the book away…

For me I think it’s likely to be a book I’ll remember (even if that is something really only time can tell!) No doubt I’ll forget details of the plot; but I think images created in my head during the reading will remain with me, as will certain feelings, and increased knowledge and understanding of traditions and ways of life in that part of the world.

As I said above, this is the first book in a trilogy; and it might also say something about my appreciation that after finishing The Blackhouse, I went straight ahead and bought* the next two as well: The Lewis Man, and The Chessmen. (Actually I’ve got started on The Lewis Man.)

Not quite incidentally, I saw today that GB also just finished reading The Blackhouse - you can read his thoughts on it here. (I was glad to learn that even he, living there himself, found the descriptions of the island and its inhabitants to ring true.)

Here are a few quotes that I highlighted during my reading - just to give you a taste of the language and style:

The exams I would sit at the end of that year would pretty much determine my future. And the rest of your life is a lot of responsibility to carry when you’re thirteen.

It’s odd how people can get locked into a kind of timewarp. There’s a time in their lives that defines them, and they hang on to it for all the subsequent decades; the same hair, the same music, even though the world around them has changed beyond recognition.

He felt like a ghost haunting his own past, walking the streets of his childhood. He half expected to see himself and Artair coming around the bend in the road.

Fin stepped out into the blustery afternoon as the rain began falling in earnest. Horizontally.

There are moments when you look at the sky and you feel that everything revolves around you, and other times when you just feel infinitesimally small.

It’s a good place to get away from. But it’s good to come back to.

 

. . .

* PS about Kindle

I’m reading these books on my Kindle. From the discussion on GB’s post today I learn that we are not all equal in the Kindle world... While the second book in the series costs only 20p for Kindle-owners in the UK, I had to pay $11,68!

Not only did I have to buy my Kindle from the US, even though I live Europe. It seems I have to download the Kindle e-books from the US as well; I cannot buy those from amazon.uk. Hardcover books and paperbacks and other things that need physical wrapping and shipping, those I can buy from England. But electronic books – nooo…! Can anyone make sense of that??

22 comments:

  1. Your Kindle situation doesn't make any sense to me either, but then, I don't have an ebook reader yet. This author sounds intriguing so I will add him to my TBR ideas; my hubby and I enjoy reading all kinds of excellent books.

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  2. Monica, thanks for this review. Things are much clearer now. I thought the book was about the harvesting of seagulls. The American edition may differ from the UK one so don't worry.
    You should benefit from buying from the USA. Cameras and software are much cheaper without State Tax. Books may be more expensive due to their esoteric value over there.
    I am looking at the Paperwhite with 3G. I usually buy books second hand or swap them. It will take me a good year to get topside of the investment.

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    1. Seagulls? Not a bird in sight in the American version... (Just kidding!!!) I bought the Kindle Touch because that was the one that turned out to be available for us non-Americans and non-British Europeans when I had decided to buy one... I'm pleased with it though! Since I don't travel much and have broadband and wifi at home, I bought the wifi version.

      Considering how many books are available for free, I don't really mind if I also have to pay a bit for some, like these. Just have to watch myself, the one-click buy is sometimes a little too easy...

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    2. I am a bugger for books. Need a trolley to get them home. The van is getting it's annual test I have just found a hundred and three books. Some I have read twice and only one I have not finished... Purge by Sofi Oksanen. I keep trying but the book is more trying. Like a literary Rubic Cube.....I want a Rubic Cube for Christmas. I'll ask Santa my son.

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    3. I think I still have mine, the Rubic Cube I mean. Probably decades since I last tried it though! One of the things I like about the Kindle, besides being easier on my eyes than regular books, is that I can now extend my library without needing more shelves!

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    4. Monica. I used to be able to do one in twenty minutes...The cube I mean....Ladies bits take much less time but then I have much to get through in a day.
      An astro nerd and fellow climber... five minutes. I never fail with the cube but have got old and now fail with crosswords.
      Give Sofi Oksanen a read. I failed to read it in English. I can read Spanish, a bit. French spotonish I am just expertish.
      It's more than possible the translator buggered up. I don't think so. She is happen just a bad Swedish writer trying to jump the train.bIt is a big book with lots of words.
      You should do translation work. You write English and American English, all are complicated communications and you do it all with no obvious problems....apart from not being able to see. Have a good time.

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    5. I never heard of Sofi Oksanen. Looked her up now and as I guessed from the surname she's Finnish. (And her mother was Estonian.) Can't say the Wiki article makes me keen to put her on my reading list any time soon...

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  3. the only thing i can think of with kindle, is the UK is written in English like the USA and in Sweden you said you don't have Swedish Kindles. UK must have Kindles there and Sweden doesn't. you are paying what we pay here in USA. that is just my thoughts i really have no clue.... i don't buy my books i only get the free ones. do you have access to the free ones?

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    1. Yes Sandra I have access to all the free classics (the books so old they're no longer copy-righted) and quite a few other free ones as well (the contemporary free ones are mostly books and authors I never heard of though). However, unlike you I can't use my Kindle for library loans and there are other Kindle membership privileges not available outside the US either. I was aware of that when I decided to buy my Kindle though.

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  4. forgot, love that waterfall in the header

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  5. I got my son a Kindle last year and he adores it. Now it is too hard for him to read the writing in a regular book. Rather sad, though. I hope the book stores stay in business, there is really nothing like them for a wonderful sensual experience. At first I thought you said Bleak House, which is a whole different book!!

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    1. It's much the same with me as with your son... I find it much easier to read on the Kindle. I hope book stores will live on too, though. Yes, Bleak House is a whole different book - I think it's probably my favourite by Charles Dickens.

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  6. Same for me, Monica - I can't buy from the kindle store on amazon.co.uk, but I can buy without a problem from amazon.com. Since I do most of my reading in English, and very little in German, I am not that interested in getting German ebooks. My kindle was bought and activated via the German Amazon-site, but I can not simply transfer the account to the .co.uk site. Never mind; there's still soooo much to read for free that I am not in danger of running out of reading material anytime soon :-)

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    1. I agree with you there, Meike. I read/listen to Swedish books as well but those I can often get from the library. When I bought the Kindle it was for easier access to books in English. And if I can not afford to buy there are certainly enough free ones availabe. I do usually "think twice" before I pay full price... But if I think it's a book I'm likely to want to return to, then it may be worth it.

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  7. I like your review Monica. I should have put some quotes on the Eagleton Book Notes version because there are quite a lot of memorable ones. I think that you chose well! The only one I'd not have thought of is the one about horizontal rain. On the Island you just accept that as the norm and I'd not even thought about it when I read it.

    Books in the UK seem to be cheaper than many places. In New Zealand books are many many times the price in the UK - often the very same books with a UK price on them and sent direct from the printer in the Far East (nearer here than the UK). Even given the tiny market in New Zealand (we have a population of 4.5 million) that makes no sense to me.

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    1. Graham, I took particular notice of all the references to weather in this book because I recognized it all so well from your photos and descriptions.

      I agree it does not make much sense that books in New Zealand should be much more expensive just because the market is smaller, as the language is still English. I can better understand that books in Swedish are more expensive because ours is a small language.

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  8. It's so unfair - because if you're not a UK resident and live in Europe, we have to buy Kindle books via amazon.com at higher prices. Pout.

    THanks for the review. My friend's dad has written this book so it's about time I read it.

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    1. Wow, Fiona, small world! The book is well worth reading even without knowing the author ;)

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  9. The Kindle situation... I can kind of explain. I think. It all has to do with the impossibly convoluted intellectual property right deals plaguing almost all types of media. (Like the market zoning regulations for DVDs and Blu-ray discs.) In short, Amazon have made Amazon.com (US) the e-book clearing house for all markets where they have not set up local, country-specific deals with publishers. So that's where they seem to have centralized all their international distribution, based on (I suspect) very generous "one-size-fits-all" general publisher agreements in order not to limit the selection of titles too much...

    Currently, I think their only working local e-book markets are the UK, Germany, Italy (and/or Spain? I forget), and possibly a few more. But Amazon recently expressed some interest in going into the Nordic markets as well, so who knows what the future holds?

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    1. Thanks, brother... I think I get the "how" even if not the full "why" ;) It will certainly be interesting to see the development on the Nordic market.

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  10. I have read the first 2 books in this series and find them haunting. If it's any comfort that's the price I have to pay here in the States too,

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    1. I thought it might be, Janet. Even if it seems the deals are not always exactly the same for US vs international buyers either.

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