‘The power of the sea always prevails…’
Once in a while, the right book comes along at just the right time. On holiday in the South of Wales surrounded by stunning countryside and views of the sea was the perfect setting in which to lose myself in this wonderful novel.
So what’s it about?
One summer’s day, Freya’s husband and son vanish at sea.
A year on, and struggling to cope, Freya returns to the lighthouse-keeper’s cottage on a remote Hebridean island, where she and her family spent so many happy times.
Haunted by visions of her old life, Freya’s dreams are dark and disturbed. And when a stranger, Daniel, is washed ashore during a storm, they turn even more menacing.
As dream and reality start to merge, Daniel seems to be following Freya’s every move. What does he want from her and is he everything he seems to be?
Is her mind playing tricks? Or is the danger that she senses very real?
On the one hand this is a poignant story of love, loss and grief which is set beautifully against the wild, untamed backdrop of the Hebridean Islands. Melissa Bailey’s masterful descriptions of her setting transported me right there with Freya from the very beginning: ‘The shingle beaches, the wild machair, the glistening burns catching the sunlight as they drained to sea’.
But this is no simple one-dimensional tale. The descriptions of Freya’s grief are raw and true. Her story is also interwoven both with extracts from her son’s diary which she finds on her return to the Island and also with that of Edward, one of Cromwell’s soldiers whose love letters from 1653 come to light (in a bottle – of course!). Through Sam’s diary she comes to learn more about his last days and in being able to read his words and hear his voice, she begins both a literal and metaphorical journey of healing: ‘She knew in that moment that if the diary told of other places Sam and Jack had been to, she would follow’.
Sam was fascinated with all things nautical – particularly myths and legends about the sea and shipwrecks. Such mythical references and folklore regarding mermaids, sirens and much more are scattered liberally throughout this novel – stories I found just as fascinating as Sam.
Reading Edward’s letters also seems to have a cathartic effect on Freya and adds to the magic of the story. He writes that: ‘The more I hear these tales… and Duncan speaking with such reverence about the air, the water, the unexplained miracles of these isles, the more I feel he believes that we have entered a magical kingdom’. His references to the blind old man who he felt could see ‘deep inside me’ just have to be considered alongside Freya’s friend, Torin. I think I fell a tiny bit in love with Torin in the same way I fell a tiny bit in love with Gandalf. He even has a Dwarvish kind of name! Torin has second sight and as he stares at Freya ‘she felt herself becoming as transparent as a pane of glass’. This is just one example of the symmetry of the novel which I found so very satisfying.
This is a hauntingly beautiful, gentle, novel but with such depth that it has stayed with me long after I put it down. It was a perfect summer read for me but I can just as easily imagine reading it curled up in front of a roaring fire on a cold, winter’s evening. Without a doubt, one of my favourite reads of 2015 so far. Huge thanks to Melissa Bailey.
‘I looked at the impenetrable darkness of the water once more. It was like a veil drawn over the past’.
Beyond the Sea is available on kindle: Beyond the Sea
Or paperback: Beyond the Sea