After suffering a mental collapse, Viv moves to the east coast of Scotland, overlooking an imposing island called Bass Rock. Viv is staying in the large, ancestral house belonging to the Hamilton family. Slowly it dawns on her that her mother was less a housekeeper and more of a lover and companion to the stern Mrs. Hamilton. The author of “The Bass Rock,” Evie Wyld, is woefully unprolific, but her few books are equally excellent. “The Bass Rock” holds more than a little in common with Kate Atkinson, who holds a theme expertly in place across generations.
Her latest novel also easily draws comparisons to Virginia Woolf and the trained helplessness of the people in “the big house,” the raw emotion of the weather. What Wyld does wonderfully is balance a story across centuries, like a turtle carrying multiple worlds on its back. Using the Bass Rock as a geographical place-setting, not to mention an ominous formation on the horizon, she travels to early Gaelic history and back, visiting the lives that intersect this unique landscape. But what is not unique is the history of violence toward women. She draws a parallel between psychological ancestry that’s as much a part of the lifeblood of the region as the geography. In the great tradition of British women authors (Wyld is Anglo-Australian), she flips what is commonly read as entertainment—the murder of a woman, for example, a mystery—into a reflection on the history of repeated casual violence toward women in society and the devastating psychological effect that it has through time.
Tempering centuries of violence is the idea that slowly, the tide does turn. Maggie, a semi-itinerant woman whom Viv meets in town, crashes on her couch. “I’m not homeless, if that’s what you think. I just choose right now not to have a home.” Calling herself a witch and opting out of the capitalist system, Maggie is just what Viv needs to combat the loneliness of her situation, to come to peace with the past, and to replace Viv’s absent mother. Maggie offers a radical future that leaps from a history of goddesses, not the crushing patriarchy. Her strength is a startling reminder to Viv about her own agency in her story.
“The Bass Rock”
By Evie Wyld
Pantheon, 350 pages