Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley


Book Description:
Carrie McClelland came to Scotland to research her next book. Renting a cottage in the same town where her story takes place, Carrie embarks not only on her novel, but on a romance with her landlord's handsome son, Graham Keith. When the boundary between past and present begins to blur, Carrie finds herself channeling memories not her own. Pulled deeper and deeper into the memories of the past, Carrie realizes these visions are more than the means to another bestselling novel, but also a way to right the wrongs of the past and create a future with the man whose love is her destiny.  

This really was a lovely book to read.  Recently reissued through Sourcebooks, I'd never heard of this author before.  I took my time with it.  It's a story within a story going back and forth between the past and present day Scotland in which an author, Carrie McClelland is drawn to the northeast coast of Scotland while writing about the Jacobite rising of 1708.  She visits the real life castle of Slains, inspiration for her latest novel.  Soon, much to her surprise, she appears to be channeling the events that happened to her ancestor Sophia Paterson who lived there at that time.   Carrie realizes, unaccountably, that she has complete memories of her g-g-g-grandmother and the events surrounding her life at Slains.

We become involved in Carrie's writing, reverting back to Sophia's story and her relationship with John Moray, a Jacobite sympathizer with a price on his head.  We are seduced by the evocative and rugged coastline of Scotland - and it's tragic and romantic history.  The Winter Sea is an unpretentious story, there is not a lot of adventure, the romance portions are oblique, yet they are powerful in their quiet simplicity.  Sophia and John fall in love, yet, as a reader I was not caught up in a tempestuous type of romance.  For the most part I felt at arms length in regard to them.   As much as we are aware of Sophia's thoughts and her trials and tribulations, I did not feel deeply for her until the second half of the book.  I had trouble connecting with her as a person, and it took me a while to warm up to her storyline and her love for John.  It was hard for me to get into her head and for most of the book, Sophia was stuck and at the mercy of all those around her.  She had no say in what happened to her, a complete inability to direct her own life.   As I read about the events that happen to Sophia as she tries to hold it together while her love is caught up in the Jacobite uprising, most of it was surprisingly unemotional for me, except for one instance when I had tears streaming down my cheeks during one particularly poignant moment.  Don't get me wrong, it was a great story and the ending was wonderful.  I loved the way it was all wrapped up and came together, I was pleasantly surprised.

The modern day part of the novel was good, but again, I had that 'one step removed from the action' feeling.  Carrie has a romance with one of two local brothers that are wooing her.  It's their little secret.  I enjoyed the playfulness and burgeoning romance that develops between them, but again, it was subtle and the ending seemed a bit anti-climatic in regard to what happens to them.  I guess it was more realistic that way, but I felt a bit let down.  I think I like a bit more drama and romance in my novels (surprise, surprise!)

Some of the more memorable features of the book were the side characters, whom I found engaging.  I liked Jimmy Keith (her lover's father and landlord), and John Moray's uncle who becomes a source of comfort for Sophia while John is away in France.  I appreciated the research by the author that must have been involved in the writing of this novel, it really set the scene and I often could imagine I was standing on a bluff looking out at the North Sea on a blustery wintry day. 

Despite the strange lack of depth and emotion I felt in regard to Sophia and Carrie as heroines, I consider this book to be somewhat of a gem.  The sad storyline, scenario of the book within a book and the background, genealogy and locale whet my appetite for more by this author.  My head is full of Scotland these days (I'm planning a trip to the Highlands this August), so I can't get enough of it!  I will definitely be paying a visit to Cruden Bay, where the ruins of New Slains Castle can be found!

4/5

7 comments:

Svea ~Muse in the Fog said...

I have been hearing very good things about this book. How awesome to be traveling to the Highlands this summer! You must be so very excited :)

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Svea-yes, I'm totally excited and looking forward to seeing Scotland for two weeks! I'm having so much fun planning where I'll go! I'll be reading a lot of Scotland based books between now and then!

This book is popping up everywhere on blogs! I felt it seemed more like an historical fiction than romance. It took me a long time to read it, unfortunately, because I only read it, for a good part of the time, on my kindle at the gym. I think I might re-read it eventually to give it the attention it deserves, I think that might have been part of my problem why I didn't connect with it as much as others have.

Misfit said...

I loved this book. Enjoy your trip to Scotland and please post pics of Slains Castle. I loved the fact that Bram Stoker spent a lot of time in that town and wrote Dracula while staying there.

Joanne said...

I think "quiet simplicity" is the perfect way to describe The Winter Sea. The romance portions are very subtle like in Victoria Holt or Mary Stewart novels.

I know you will have an amazing time in Scotland, and watch out for those standing stones!!

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Misfit, I'll definitely post a complete post about my whole visit! I can't wait to visit so many of the places I've read about!

Joanne, I read Victoria Holt's books years ago while in high school, but can barely remember most of them except "Night of the Seventh Moon" which was the first romance I'd ever read (aside from GWTW). It hooked me on VH's gothic romances - I devoured them all! Ah, Scotland - I can't wait. We'll be in the Loch Ness area for a week (a good central spot), do lots of hiking and see Skye one day, then onto to Islay for a weekend (visit distilleries), and Edinburgh for another 5 days with day trips to Aberdeen, Glasgow and Stirling - finally, finally! I am a bit nervous about all that driving on the "wrong" side of the road!

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

The Winter Sea is very subtle, for me a bit too detached, but quite lovely. I know you are going to have an incredible time in Scotland. And it is true, when you touch those ancient standing stones, you can feel power.

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Julia - I can't wait to go to the Clava Cairns, I think there's even a split stone there, I'll have to get my DH to film me doing my Claire imitation - LOL!

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