Sarah Maine’s “The House Between Tides-” Scottish tour de force

Thank you, Netgalley and Atria Books, for this now-released ARC!

Maine‘s House Between Tides begins  when Londoner Hetty Devereaux discovers she has inherited a mansion estate in the Scottish Outer Hebrides (yeah, I had to look them up too!) from her last living relative, and abandons her strained relationship to find out more about it. However, not all is what it seems: The estate is crumbling away on an inaccessible part of the land, and inside is a the body of someone murdered long ago.

More curious than ever, and desperate to do something to her family home, Hetty dives into history for answers, which leads to her distant relative Theo Blake, reclusive painter, and his beautiful wife Beatrice. Who is the body beneath the foundation? Will Hetty find the answers that she seeks, and in turn, find herself?

I loved a lot about this book, and disliked a few things that were not deal breakers. To start, I Loved:

  • … the history surrounding this novel. One of my favorite sub-genres in historical lit is Big House literature from Troubles Ireland, and this harkens back to a similar tone. Hetty’s distant ancestor Theo was the semi-oppressive rich man from the lowlands that comes in and claims Hebrides as his own, unintentionally disregarding the lives of the native people around him. Main sets up this scene very well, giving an evocative showing of the tension without being overbearing in political narrative.
  • …the scenery. Man, can Maine write a landscape. Hetty’s estate comes alive on the page, a Gothic Jane Eyre-esque spooky feeling that something wicked this way comes. The island itself, the sand, the birds, all of it is written in a starkly beautiful narrative.
  • …the romance. Without giving anything away, Hetty is a character that deserves a bone/soul squeezing love, and she gets it.

What I didn’t love:

  • …Hetty’s (lack of) character development. Hetty is often walked on, constantly being pulled in two different directions (turn estate into expensive hotel or let house g to nature/keep in family hands) and her decisions seem to really swing depending on what guy is more forceful at the time. She does not show a backbone until much later in the novel, and her motives are suspect even there. Hetty is not the strong, independent woman one comes to expect in highland-type novels.
  • …For that matter, the men. All of the men in Hetty’s life are controlling, in varying degrees of strength/detriment to her wellbeing. I found them to be a little stereotypical.
  • …the split-time narrative. I am often a fan and often a foe of this literary technique, and here it was good, but confusing to all hell. Maine gives us a lot of characters with a very confusing family tree, and it is often hard to separate who is related over the 100-year span. There is also just a lot of characters in general, and all of them seem to vie for your attention without focusing on who you need to pay close attention to.

All in all, I loved this. It is definitely worthy of more attention than your everyday, pick up and put down type of novel, and I found myself writing down what confused me and bookmarking pages to go back for reference. In the end, it is worth it. Four waves!

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