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??