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I decided to read "Emotional Geology" as it is set on North Uist in the Western Isles. Not somewhere I've ever been but I love stories set in Scotland anyway and plus the title sounded intriguing. I picked up a second hand copy from the amazon market place and ironically ended up reading it while I was on an island (not North Uist though - I was in Orkney, but it was probably just as wild and windy).
Linda Gillard has worked as an actress, journalist and teacher. She wrote her first novel, "Emotional Geology" at the age of 47, with the sole intention of writing a book for herself. She had no notion of getting it published, however it was eventually published by Transita. She has since written two more novels.
"Emotional Geology" is a slow burner of a book that jumps from first to third person and also jumps backwards in time. However it isn't a confusing read as I found it easy to adapt to each new section. The chapters are quite long but there are plenty breaks in the narrative if you want to take a break. There are also some sections written as poems.
The main character is Rose Leonard, who is effectively on the run from her life. Rose is a textile artist who suffers from bi-polar disorder and has moved to the relative isolation of North Uist to escape her past. We know from the first chapter that she has been in hospital, she has a daughter Megan, and she has recently either lost or separated from Gavin.
However she is introduced to Calum by her neighbour Shona, and discovers that despite her best intentions against it, she may be headed for a romance. This isn't a typical romantic story by any means though. Rose has a lot of demons she needs to exorcise and as the story progresses we discover Calum has few demons of his own. As we read, we wonder whether both or either of them will have the strength to overcome their pasts and start living their lives again. It clearly illustrates the fine line that exists between insanity and creativity and how that fine line exists in everyone; it's just that many of us, mercifully, never cross it.
It's hard to pin-point a genre for this book. Romance would be the obvious one but I would say there's a lot more to it than that. The title "Emotional Geology" comes from the title of a fictional poetry book that Calum has written, and indeed is relevant to the prose of the book itself as Gillard wonderfully weaves emotions together with landscapes, rock formations, fabric colours, fabric textures. The prose is alive and you can feel and see every element she describes. Rocks and mountains play a big part in the book. Rose's ex-partner Gavin was an eager climber, as was Calum. And Rose often compares the mountainous landscape of neighbouring Skye to the flatness of North Uist. Geology is used metaphorically, and the layers of Rose's life are excavated in almost the same manner as the ground could be.
The characters are well-rounded, well-developed and realistic. Rose, at 47, is almost 20 years older than I am, yet as her story is gently revealed, I found myself identifying with her. Why she has such a tenuous relationship with her daughter, why her relationship with Gavin still haunts her, why she wants to keep herself to herself, why she tries to resist Calum. We see glimpses of her life at various stages of her illness, which is skillfully portrayed by Gillard without being over dramatic. Rose is wonderfully self-absorbed so to hear her describe her own manic/depressive episodes is a fabulous insight into this illness.
Calum is the perfect gentleman yet with the flawed streaks that prevent him becoming stereotypical. When the reason behind his torment is finally revealed, I found myself viewing him in a completely different light. Gavin (only seen in flashback) comes across as a complete asshole to be honest, yet the charm that Rose fell for is clearly there. Other minor characters include her daughter Megan and neighbours Shona and Donald, as well as their children. All are realistic aswell and play important parts in the overall plot.
The most intriguing part of the book for me was when Rose and Calum get together creatively - Rose will make a quilt to illustrate each of Calum's poems. I found it so interesting to look at how a poem can be interpreted visually, using texture and colours alone.
The location and the prose are both haunting and once you start reading you'll feel that you're there on North Uist with Rose.
The ultimate plus for me about this book was that I found it inspiring, I write a lot in my spare time and as well written as this book is, I didn't find that it made me feel "down" because it's better than anything I can write. On the contrary I found myself desperate to get writing when I finished it. As magical as it is, there is a simplicity to it that made me eager to get writing, as well as look into quilting which is something I've never considered before.
This is a very well-written and well researched book but it won't be for everyone as its slow moving and is more poetic than plot driven. But I would highly recommend it anyway as it's a relatively easy read and there are a few twists in the storyline that you won't be expecting.