Elizabeth Gifford’s debut novel is an enthralling piece of storytelling set in the remote and beautiful Outer Hebrides and featuring family secrets, folklore and mystery. Ruth and Michael have bought the Sea House in Scarista, once the manse and home of the local minister, they want to renovate it and provide accommodation for tourists. Ruth’s heritage is Scottish though she grew up mostly in care in London after her mother’s death. As soon as work begins there is a grim discovery; the skeleton of a baby found beneath the floorboards, a baby with its legs fused together, a mermaid baby.
Ruth remembers the tales of mermaids from the islands that her mother told her and now she has two mysteries to solve; the origins of the baby and her own Island heritage. She discovers the notebooks of a minister who lived in the manse in the 1860s Reverend Alexander Ferguson; he was also interested in the mermaid folklore of the islands. Alexander’s story and that of his maid Moira are then interspersed with Ruth’s throughout the rest of the novel.
Elizabeth Gifford’s writing is poetic and haunting. The dual-time narrative is a device used here to great effect and the plot is well paced. This is a heartfelt story and a real page turner. Fans of historical fiction, folklore and Scotland will all enjoy this wonderful debut. Elizabeth Gifford is writer to watch.
Secrets of the Sea House will be published by Corvus on 6th August 2013.