The Sea House
About This Book
In 1860, Alexander Ferguson, a newly ordained vicar and amateur evolutionary scientist, takes up his new parish, a poor, isolated patch on the remote Scottish island of Harris. He hopes to uncover the truth behind the legend of the selkies—mermaids or seal people who have been sighted off the north of Scotland for centuries. He has a more personal motive, too; family legend states that Alexander is descended from seal men. As he struggles to be the good pastor he was called to be, his maid Moira faces the terrible eviction of her family by Lord Marstone, whose family owns the island. Their time on the island will irrevocably change the course of both their lives, but the white house on the edge of the dunes keeps its silence long after they are gone.
It will be more than a century before the Sea House reluctantly gives up its secrets. Ruth and Michael buy the grand but dilapidated building and begin to turn it into a home for the family they hope to have. Their dreams are marred by a shocking discovery. The tiny bones of a baby are buried beneath the house; the child’s fragile legs are fused together—a mermaid child. Who buried the bones? And why? To heal her own demons, Ruth feels she must discover the secrets of her new home—but the answers to her questions may lie in her own traumatic past. The Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford is a sweeping tale of hope and redemption and a study of how we heal ourselves by discovering our histories.
I was drawn to this story by its Scottish setting and history, and intrigued by its unusual premise and dual time periods. Overall, the writing was very lyrical and engaging. Alexander and Moira, the 1860s hero and heroine, were incredibly well-written and complex, with strong motivations carrying them through the story. I loved all the Celtic mythology woven throughout, especially the surprising but completely logical explanation of the Selkie/Finnman legends Alexander is so passionate about.
The historical story and characters outshone the contemporary ones for me, making the book feel a bit uneven overall, and the final, much shorter “Part Two” of the novel also felt rushed and left the ending a little too vague for my taste. Alexander’s drive is based almost entirely on his obsession with being the next Charles Darwin, and readers who don’t hold to the theory of evolution may find his motives objectionable, especially as he is a minister who holds the theory higher than the Bible. As this is a general market novel, there is one instance of explicit language and a smattering of milder language which Christian readers may find offensive. The story also deals with some disturbing images and themes, including depression, suicide, and rape, so I would not recommend it for younger readers.
On the whole, mature readers who enjoy women’s fiction with heavy romantic threads and unusual history and setting will enjoy getting lost in this story for a few hours.
Available April 15, 2014 from St. Martin’s Press