Book Review for “The House by the Loch” by Kirsty Wark.
Summary: “Walter MacMillan is bewitched by the clever, glamorous Jean Thompson and can’t believe his luck when she agrees to marry him. Neither can she, for Walter represents a strong and steady and loving man who can perhaps quiet the demons inside her. Yet their home on remote Loch Doon soon becomes a prison for Jean and neither a young family, nor Walter’s care, can seem to save her. Many years later Walter is with his adult children and adored grandchildren on the shores of Loch Doon where the family has been holidaying for two generations. But the shadows of the past stretch over them and will turn all their lives upside down on one fateful weekend.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Fiction – Literary, Family Saga, Romantic; Settings: Historical, Scotland; Other Categories: Novel.
Okay, so yeah… about the title of this review. I couldn’t help it, but throughout reading this book, the character of Walter looked and sounded just like James Garner. Now, if Garner was Scottish and was still alive, and they wanted to make a movie out of this book, he would have been absolutely perfect! Ah, but alas and alack, it wasn’t meant to be (and time travel doesn’t exist), so all I could do was imagine him becoming this character at different stages of his life and career. That said, this does say something very positive about how Wark was able to develop this character, and how real he felt to me as I read his story. Unfortunately, my brain couldn’t hear Garner’s voice with a Scottish accent, and somehow the whole thing wasn’t in Scotland but somewhere in the US. This was very strange because Wark is fully Scottish, and yet in none of the dialogue was I able to “hear” any Scottish accents. I’m guessing this is because Wark probably assumed that the readers will “get it” without spoon-feeding them with colloquialisms and variances in spelling.
One plus side to this is that Wark doesn’t patronize her readers, and I truly appreciate that. Another is that no matter where you live, or what your accent is, you can recognize the aspects of the human condition that Wark is describing here, since they are essentially universal. This also means that there’s an evergreen side to this story and these situations, which is an essential building block for writing what could become a classic novel. The question then becomes, does the story have enough unique features to make sure that it is memorable? Of course, the whole James Garner bit will be something that will stick in my mind for a long time, so that is certainly in this book’s favor. There are other aspects that are memorable about this book, for example, the loch and surrounding settings, which Wark so lovingly describes here. This is her home turf, and we can feel it on every page, and that’s a good thing. Furthermore, the family dynamics here are just special enough to make them notable, never unbelievable, with just enough conflicts to make for an overall interesting story.
However, the biggest drawback for me were some inconsistencies here. Walter is so well formed, that many of the other characters felt flat by comparison. In fact, there were one or two that felt so sketchy that I had to think carefully about who they were every time their names came up. That would be fine for really tiny characters but not ones who appear throughout the book. This also led to some confusion for me regarding who were Walter’s children, and who were their spouses and their siblings. Thankfully, I got all of the grandchildren just fine, which is a good thing because they are very important characters here. Also, the novel starts out talking about these two houses on the loch, one which is a new build, and one which is an older building. I found the architecture part to be fascinating, but then it never got mentioned again, which I thought was a bit of a shame.
Essentially what I’m saying here is that this could have been a truly amazing novel, but there were a few things that fell short for me. I absolutely adored Walter and he will probably remain in my head for a long time, which is always a good thing. The grandchildren were also very memorable, but other characters fell short. In addition, the romance here was perfectly balanced, and not at all cloying. I also think Wark had a very good story to tell here, which was nicely plotted out, with the right number of conflicts to keep us turning the pages. Plus, her descriptions of Scotland made me ache to take that trip that’s been put on Covid-19 hold for at least nine months now. I will still recommend this novel, but I can only give it three and a half stars out of five, which is still a positive rating from me, and although I found some faults with this book, I did like Wark’s writing style, so I would be happy to read other books by her in the future.
Two Roads – John Murray Press (an imprint of Hachette UK), released “The House by the Loch” by Kirsty Wark in 2019 in the UK, and in January 2020 in the US. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Waterstones, WHSmith, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you.