All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

The Winter Sea – Susanna Kearsley

on March 28, 2011

A little back story before the review:

Sometime last year Marg from Adventures of an Intrepid Reader and I discovered during a twitter #spbkchat that we lived within 10 minutes of each other in adjoining suburbs. It took us a while to organise meeting in person but in January we met for lunch with another local book blogger/bookstore owner. I happened to mention that I found a challenge Marg and her friend were undertaking, where they choose books for each other to read, interesting so Marg issued me with a strong recommendation to read this novel, The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. I requested it from our local library but it was checked out and not due back until about the 12th February so I settled in to wait. And wait. And wait! Finally it was returned to the library on the 12th of March.

So, having finally acquired the novel, I dived into it. Our main character Carrie is a historical fiction author currently researching a novel set in 1707/08 Scotland and the failed Jacobite invasion. She was researching in France and struggling to make the novel come together when she arrives in Scotland to visit her agent for her son’s christening. She takes a detour and finds Slains Castle. From the moment she first sees it, she is captivated and realises that in order to complete this novel, she must be living in Scotland and writing from a Scottish characters perspective. She returns to France, packs up her things and then arrives back in Scotland, letting a small cottage near to the castle from one of the cheerful, lovely locals. She decides to insert one of her ancestors, Sophia in to the story simply as a fictional character through whom she can gain perspective without having to actually write from the point of view of a real historical figure.

After she makes this decision, she is swept away with memories and scenes, sometimes appearing as dreams, sometimes as day dreams and she finds that she is writing faster than she has ever written before. To her surprise, she knows the layout of Slains Castle perfectly, she recalls historical facts and details before even beginning to research them and she names characters in her story only to find out that they were real and did indeed exist and in the roles she has given them. What started out as a way to use her ancestor has turned into Carrie realising that she seems to have stumbled upon a real story that has manifested in a way that made her think she was writing fiction. Now she thinks that she has acquired Sophia’s memories and really is writing the event as it actually occurred, from the point of view of someone who was there to witness it.

Add in the colourful and friendly locals (including two very different and intriguing brothers) and Carrie’s life is definitely taking a turn for the more interesting in Scotland. Not only is she crafting a novel that she knows could be her finest to date, she’s also finding that sometimes life imitates art and her enigmatic hero of the novel is sharing more characteristics with the academic professor she met on the beach.

From the time Carrie sees Slains Castle in the novel, I knew I was going to love this book. Part of the reason Marg suggested this novel to me is that she’s a big fan of historical fiction and it’s not a genre I’ve really had much experience in reading other than the odd Philippa Gregory, etc. This novel is both contemporary and historical and both time periods are enjoyable and the transition between them is smooth and effortless. I appreciated always knowing whether or not I was in Carrie’s head or if it was when she was writing about Sophia because there’s nothing worse for me, than jerky character transition. Kearsley creates a parallel of stories that are both similar and yet different and I was eager to learn more about both!

Because I did only geography in high school, I find my history knowledge is severely lacking. I don’t know much about Scottish history, despite being of Scottish extraction (although admittedly, I think you need to go back some eight generations to find the first ancestor born in Scotland!) so this book was quite an interesting history lesson as well. As a novel, it tells the attempted invasion in a story rather than as a dry text which is definitely more fascinating to read! And after finishing this book I found a series airing on TV called A History of Scotland which has an episode which deals with a fair few of the events in this novel so I have to remember to record that one! I’m finding that reading these sorts of novels is a good way to fill some gaps in my education, although you have to be careful as authors do take liberties – but I find reading about a scenario such as this leads me to research it further upon completion of the book so I’m learning and reading awesome stories at the same time!

The Scottish weather is a huge part of the novel (in both sections) with Slain Castle being set on a cliff overlooking a foamy grey sea and Carrie renting a cottage near the beach and tramping through mists and rain on a regular basis. I actually looked up Scotland’s Wikipedia page on completing the novel (more research!) and discovered that the highest temperature ever recorded in Scotland is 32 degrees Celsius and that maximum summer temperatures average around 18 degrees Celsius which would be a rather lovely winter’s day here! That rather killed all my romantic ideas of living in a small cottage on a Scottish cliff one day!

Normally time travelling/psychic stuff/dead ancestor’s memories/etc isn’t my sort of thing. But I have to admit, I enjoyed every aspect of this novel. Some characters are more deeply drawn than others but they’re all very engaging to read about and the romances in both timelines were ones that thoroughly hooked me. I could’ve finished this novel in one sitting if I’d been brave enough but being 14wks pregnant and having a 2yo I really can’t stay up until 3-4am these days reading books anymore! I need my sleep! So I had to set it aside and turn out the light and then pick it up and finish it the next day when my son was having his nap and my partner was at work and I knew I wouldn’t be interrupted. It’s just that sort of book.

And the ending? Perfect!


Book #35 of 2011

6 responses to “The Winter Sea – Susanna Kearsley

  1. Elizabeth says:

    This book sounds soooooooooooooooooooo good. And…I love books set in Scotland.

    It HAS to go on my TBR list.

    THANKS for the review.


  2. Melissa says:

    Great review! I just put this on my wishlist. Sounds really interesting. I really haven’t read much Scottish historical fiction, but i’m ready to give it a shot.

  3. Marg says:

    Strongly recommended indeed! I just happened to be recommending this book to someone on the weekend!

    So glad you loved it. Now I have to remember what the next book I suggested you read was…other than more Susanna Kearsley of course!

  4. Good gracious – I clicked on the link of Slains Castle and fell in love with it. I already wanted to read this book, but the pictures and your thoughts are pulling me in even more. I love a book in which the main character becomes so heavily involved in her work that something else seems to pull them in even more so. Loving the sound of this one!

  5. Grammared says:

    I read this book this weekend. It was amazing. I did little else once I got started. What a wonderful story. Your work with history has brought to life an era I knew little about. I am so facinated I will be doing my own reading about this time. Thanks for bringing it to life.

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