A Dark and Distant Shore by Reay Tannahill

A Dark and Distant Shore by Reay Tannahill

Length: 720 pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Head Of Zeus, March 2014


About the Author:

Reay Tannahill was a British historian, writer and novelist, her best know works being: Food in History and Sex in History. She also wrote 2 novels under the pseudonym Annabel Laine. in 1990 her novel Passing Glory won the Romantic Novel of the Year award.

She wrote 7 novels, of which A Dark and Distant Shore is one, before her Passing in 2007.

Main Characters:

The main characters are too numerous to mention singularly without the list taking hours to read.

There are 2 key families, the Cameron’s who have owned Kinveil for the 500 years preceding the book. The key character we follow being Vilia Cameron who becomes a Lauriston through marriage. 

The second family being the Telfers who buy Kinveil at the start of the book and who we follow as closely as Vilia’s side. Linked to the Telfers by marriage are also the Randalls who are key players in some of the Telfers lives.

Plot summary, spoiler free I promise:

A Dark and Distant Shore is a historical novel that spans over 100 years and the inevitable family changes that this passage of time brings.

The story begins with Mungo arriving at Kinveil and confirming to Vilia that her father does intend to sell her beloved home, a fact that was previously a rumour among staff and nothing more. We get the first glimpse into the true depth of love that Vilia has for her home, and her actions are perfectly described and shown as that which is expected from a 7 year old girl. Along side this a clearer image of the rational behind the selling of Kinveil becomes more obvious, as well as a glimpse into Vilia’s father, Theophilius’ past.

We then jump forward in time and space to London where Vilia is older, still passionate and driven, yet more mature. Here we see the first of many instances where tragedy and life changes are inexorably linked back to Kinveil. While in London we are also introduced to further characters in the early Telfer family including Magnus, Luke and Lucy. 

We follow the interplay of both families through marriage, hardships, loss and birth, and dispersed among this, the lives and drama of the locals, who live and work the land around the castle, is brought vibrantly to life. The life and seasons of work in rural Scotland are beautifully illustrated, while the ever changing families are in stark contrast to unchanging processed of making kelp, salmon fishing and whisky smuggling that occurs throughout the book.

Throughout the novel there is a stark contrast between those who love and cherish the harsh land around Kinveil, and those who have been forced there due to circumstances or inheritance. While there are many who live, covet or own Kinveil, the interplay across generations, countries and families always has the castle in the background as a constant and, at times, imposing figure. This is a novel that takes you through time, and around the world.

From the beginning in rural Scotland you will journey through war with Napoleon, high society in London, Iron foundries and through America and Canada. All the while following a cast of characters that grow and change with the times.

My Thoughts:

This novel is slow in parts yet beautifully descriptive. The author does a fantastic job of capturing the emotions of the characters, and especially those of children who grow and mature as the novel and their ages progress.

The scene painted of rural, and urban, 1800’s Scotland is vivid and real, you can almost feel the sheep fleece and smell the salt and fish when the characters do. And the descriptions of other places, such as London are no less vivid and immersive, including the societal expectations of the time, you truly fee like you’re living there and are a part of society at the time.

The downside for me was the number of characters that are introduced, become key to a plot line and are then discarded, I struggle with names at the best of times and in all honesty it only started to become clearer as I made notes for this review. A small factor too is that speech is not in quotation marks, a fact that can make the text run together somewhat and can confuse conversation. Or I read weirdly, one or the other.

Don’t let this put you off though! Especially if you are a keen reader of classical novels and the style they are written in. It is truly a book that brings landscapes and people to life.

Favourite quote:

Also she was tired of behaving like a demure little miss with no more brains than a pea-goose.

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