Book Reviews

Book Review: The Sea House

The Sea House

By Elisabeth Gifford

Published 2013

303 Pages

As obvious by the publication date,  I’m not always picking up the latest novel to read.  And I’ve been on a bit of a time slip kick lately.  This novel also has the backstory happening in 1860, a year I’ve used in a few novels so it checked all the boxes of what I was looking for.  Fortunately, it was also a good book.

Ruth and Michael buy The Sea House, a former Manse in the Hebrides Islands, to renovate and turn into a B&B.  Early in the renovation process, they discover an infant’s remains under the floorboards, an infant whose legs are fused together in a tail similar to a mermaid.  This adds one more mystery for Ruth to uncover since her primary purpose of moving to the island is to discover her own roots.  Her mother was a MacLeod who grew up there, but never revealed anything about her past and died when Ruth was only ten years old.  Passed between foster homes and group homes after her mother’s apparent suicide, Ruth is still dealing with the trauma of her loss and early life.  The discovery of the infant sets Ruth off on a quest not only to determine how it came to be there, but also to heal her own wounds.

In 1860, Alexander Ferguson was the new vicar on the small island of Harris.  He’s also an amateur scientist and in addition to forging a closer relationship with God, he’s searching for evidence of Merpeople, from whom he believes he’s descended.  But it’s a fine line between finding solid evidence and having his reputation ruined for believing in fairy tales.  

Moira is Alexander’s maid, the only one left of her family when the Laird of the island, Lord Marstone, evicted them to provide more grazing land for his sheep.  She dreams of the day when she can exact revenge against Lord Marstone for the death of her family, but is torn by her love and loyalty to the vicar.

These are the three POV characters and Gifford has done something I don’t see that often in multiple POV books – she’s given a truly distinct voice to each character.  I found the vicar’s voice to be a bit dry at times, but all three were artfully presented.  In addition, each story line was as interesting as the others.  Again, it’s not often that one story line doesn’t dominate the other(s) but that wasn’t an issue here.

What did frustrate me was the pacing, particularly with Ruth.  She was a complex character and skillfully drawn, but my expectation, based on the book jacket, was that she needed to solve the mystery of the baby.  She does, in the end, but not so much through her own agency.  Her storyline devolved from the mystery fairly quickly and while it was enjoyable and realistic, it didn’t match my expectations so I had to adjust them fairly often.  

That said, the setting was stark and beautiful and played as much a part in the story as the characters.   The Hebrides have been added to my bucket list of places to visit.

This was a solid if quiet book and I enjoyed the three story lines that supported each other without obviously playing off of each other. 

I rated this book three stars.

My rating system:

5 stars – Wow, I could not stop thinking about this book and/or I wish I’d writtn it.

4 stars – This was an awesome novel, I’d recommend it to friends.

3 stars – This was a good novel, I will look for more by this author.

2 stars – An okay novel, but I probably won’t look for anything else by the author.


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