Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Emotional Geology - Linda Gillard

'I move to prove to myself that I am not drugged, that I have willpower and can use it. See me - I can move. I exist. I am me. 
The first battle of the day is fought and won.'

Emotional Geology was Linda Gillard's debut novel. She has since written five more novels, most of which I have read - you'll find reviews of some of them here on my blog. I was drawn to reading this one in particular, and yet also hesitant about it, because it deals with mental health. I'm so glad I've read it now. It's a beautiful, sad, evocative and romantic tale that felt very real and honest.

We meet 47 year-old textile artist Rose Leonard living on the island of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides, in a small community, wrapped up in her work, relishing the quietness and peace of her surroundings, trying to escape, or at least find some acceptance of, the traumatic events in her past that still dominate her thoughts. Her main human contact is occasional encounters with her nearest neighbour Shona and her family, and corresponding by letter with her own daughter, Megan. One day Rose meets Shona's brother Calum, a teacher and poet who is younger than her and is blighted by his own scars from the past. 

Linda Gillard captures relationships believably and with Rose and Calum she has depicted an attraction between two very damaged souls; their respective paths in life and love so far have been neither smooth nor easy, but together they make for a passionate, creative couple – though it won’t be an easy journey for them. I felt totally immersed in their story as I read. Love, relationships and desire are themes at the heart of this story but it should by no means be filed away simply under ‘romantic’ fiction as there is so much more to it than that, in particular the importance of place and the search for sanity.

The author conveys the passion that Rose has for her craft, the freedom of expression she finds in her artwork, an outlet for both her inner joys and demons. In Rose she portrays the manic, frenzied highs and desperate, crippling lows of bipolar depression. A mental illness can place enormous strain on relationships and the challenges of that are dealt with skillfully and honestly here. I felt Rose's anguish and reluctance to move forwards into a new relationship, to allow herself to risk being hurt, or to risk trusting Calum, when she was so haunted by her previous partner Gavin; he was still such a presence for her and dominates her thoughts, as Megan tells Calum, ‘She may be physically distant from him and distant in time…But she’s still living with him. He’s in her thoughts, inside her head…’

But I could feel that she sensed there was a chance for her to know new happiness, if she was brave enough, and strong enough, to take it. In Calum we have a sensitive, caring and handsome man, a mature, damaged hero if you like, and Rose is a mature lady, ‘too young to be widowed and too old to be looking for a mate. I occupy that no man’s land – no woman’s land – between youth and old age.’ This is a theme that this author often considers; a lead female character in her forties or fifties, not in the early stages of her life but by no means near the end either, and what that is like. Rose’s relationship with daughter Megan is also evidently difficult and as the story unfolds we discover some of the reasons why. I felt for the position Megan was in, and how difficult it could be sometimes, even if I didn't agree with all of her behaviour.

Even at some of the darkest times, though, and in the most difficult situations there are still wonderful moments of humour, and the author has a gift for this in her writing.

The setting plays a big role in the novel; it is a place of escape, a bleak yet stunning landscape as backdrop to the growth of this new love. The title of the novel is a clever choice. Rose has chosen to live on 'female' North Uist for a reason; even the structure and feel of the land gives her more peace than a 'male', more mountainous landscape such as that on Skye – ‘masculine country of hard edges and angles…male and exciting’ - would:

‘The landscape here on North Uist is female: pale, undulating, yielding. There are no cliffs or mountains, no wide rivers, no great heights or depths, not even many trees. There are sparkling lochans like jewels, wild flowers scattered on the dunes like bright beads, burns that chatter and gurgle like Shona’s children. I feel safe here, even in the teeth of a gale. To be sure, the wind and sea seem male, gnawing away at the land, occasionally beating her into submission, but they come and they go, like the fishermen.’

I could picture some of the scenes in the novel and imagine the places as they are evoked so memorably. I would love to visit this place – Uist - one day and compare it to what I have seen of Skye. 

As well as artistry and expression with textiles and words, the novel explores the pursuit of climbing, and what drives some of those who venture up some of the world’s most challenging climbs. Though I have a passion for hillwalking myself, I wouldn’t describe myself as a climber and it was interesting to read about characters for whom the challenge and risk of climbing is so much a part of their lives, a need they must fulfill.

I found this a moving and at times painful read; parts of it, in particular those dealing with Rose’s health, really touched me. I thought Rose’s illness was portrayed honestly and the impact of it on both her and those around her was believable. These characters intrigued me and have stayed in my mind. I enjoyed the inventive narrative structure incorporating first person, third person, letters and poetry into the storytelling. At times the prose was blunt and crisp; just right for conveying some of the very raw, stark emotions. I liked the symbolism in the story and how trees were important at the very start and again at the very end. 

A heartfelt and unforgettable book. 

Source - author review copy
Previously published by Transita and now self-published Available as an ebook here (paperback currently out of print)
Author website | Author facebook page
Views of other bloggers - Girl Vs Bookshelf  | Dizzy C's Little Book Blog | Angieville


  1. I have this on my tbr and after your review feel I really ought to be bumping it up the list, thanks Linds


    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment Lainy. I look forward to reading your thoughts on this book when you get to it.

  2. Great review, Lindsay. Thanks for introducing me to this author and her work. I'm putting this on my TBR list.

    1. Thanks very much for visiting and commenting Catherine. I'm glad to help you find a great author that is new to you.

  3. Thanks for this terrific review, Lindsay. Your reviews are always so thoughtful & beautifully written. :-)

    1. Thank you for taking the time to visit and comment Linda. I really appreciate it. Very kind.


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