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The Bass Rock: Winner of the 2021 Stella Prize Mass Market Paperback – 22 April 2021
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Mass Market Paperback
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Surging out of the sea, the Bass Rock has for centuries watched over the lives that pass under its shadow on the Scottish mainland. And across the centuries the fates of three women are linked- to this place, to each other.
In the early 1700s, Sarah, accused of being a witch, flees for her life.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, Ruth navigates a new house, a new husband and the strange waters of the local community.
Six decades later, the house stands empty. Viv, mourning the death of her father, catalogues Ruth's belongings and discovers her place in the past - and perhaps a way forward.
Each woman's choices are circumscribed, in ways big and small, by the men in their lives. But in sisterhood there is the hope of survival and new life. Intricately crafted and compulsively readable, The Bass Rock burns bright with anger and love.
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- Publisher : Penguin; 1st edition (22 April 2021)
- Mass Market Paperback : 368 pages
- ISBN-10 : 176104530X
- ISBN-13 : 978-1761045301
- Dimensions : 13 x 3.3 x 19.7 cm
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from Australia
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The three narratives are interlinked in many ways that don't appear immediately obvious, however the common theme of the treatment of women by the men in their lives and male violence against women is evident from the outset.
The story is divided into several parts, moving from Viv to Ruth to Sarah and back again. Interwoven are brief vignettes detailing horrific acts of violence against women.
This book was a bit of a dilemma for me - whilst I appreciated the individual stories, and the novel as a whole, I had difficulty with the portrayal of all of the male characters, even the minor ones (with the exception of Ruth's stepsons who were subject to male violence themselves) as cruel at the least, and at the most ultimately evil. This may have been the point, but it seemed unrealistic and for me, detracted from the overall story.
Initially I had some difficulty following the narratives, but as the structure of the novel became more clear, and I got to know the characters, the reading became more straightforward. If you are looking for an easy read that follows a traditional format, this may not be the book for you.
As I am sitting here, digesting the story, I am again marvelling at how Wyld can conjure up such an intensely emotional and atmospheric setting with mere words. In this case, parts of the story filled me with dread and foreboding, as they were undoubtedly intended to do, dealing with issues such as murder, domestic abuse and violence against women in general.
The format of the book was unusual, with one timeline set in the present, one in 1950’s and one back in the 1700’s. Two female characters, Viv and Ruth, dominate most of the book, with whole chapters devoted to them. Interspersed with these are short chapters from the 1700’s (from a male perspective), as well as snapshots of random acts of violence committed against anonymous woman characters. Male dominance features strongly in each timeline, which stoked feelings of anger and infuriation in me at the scenes I witnessed. Some of it was confronting in its brutality and not for the faint hearted! If I found this format unusual at first, I was soon drawn into the story / stories and they had a strange hold on me.
Wyld’s writing is beautiful and poetic, conjuring up both beauty and horror in equal measures and bringing her characters to life. There was even a small hint of the supernatural in the descriptions of the old house perched on the cliff and its ghostly inhabitants – or where they merely a manifestation of the women’s fears and sorrows? This was not a story that focused on any particular central event, but instead catalogued parts of the lives of these women. Once I got used to the story’s gentle ebb and flow, I was hooked.
THE BASS ROCK was a dark, disturbing but also captivating tale that chronicles parts of our central female characters’ lives, featuring themes such as male dominance, murder, madness, domestic abuse and violence against women in general. With her different timelines Wyld demonstrates that the issue of violence against women by male perpetrators has been an ongoing relevant topic for centuries, and is still a theme we need to take seriously. She manages to do so in a clever, subtle way that really got under my skin, by simply showcasing her female characters’ experiences. Written in her hallmark beautiful lyrical prose, the story made for disturbing and yet enchanting reading, burrowing itself deep into my psyche. An unusual but very topical read that will appeal to readers who are not solely focused on a beginning-to-end story.
Top reviews from other countries
Ruth’s story begins in the period after the Second World War. After losing her beloved brother in combat, she has married a widower, Peter. Living in a large house on the shores of North Berwick, transplanted from her London life, Ruth is trying to get to grips with being a wife and a step mother to Peter’s sons.
And finally, in the present, we meet Viv. Having recently lost her father, she too is struggling with her grief and an apparent lack of purpose in her life. She has been sent to Berwick to clear out her Aunt’s house.
The stories of the three women are woven together in a stunning narrative. There are ways in which the women are physically connected, which emerge throughout the novel. But most importantly they are tied by themes and experiences which focus on the treatment of women throughout history.
This book has a a number of core and important messages which I will try and uphold the brilliance of. However I just want to take a moment to highlight the skill of the writing within these pages.
There were so many phrases that just took my breath away. Evie Wyld has that rare ability to weave words in such a way that the reader is able to paint truly vivid pictures in your mind. Whether it is simple description of a dog stretching…
The dog stretches out her long legs and spreads her toes, groans with the weariness of a saint.
The Bass Rock – pg 187
…or the interaction between a man and his wife in church…
A man coughed and was shushed by his wife. The man held up his palms. What would you have me do, choke to death? And the woman shook her head. I’m not listening to you. The man settled back against the pew and the woman stayed so still and so straight it seemed she might lift off the seat and float in irritation to the ceiling of the church.
The Bass Rock- pg 84.
…the clear simplicity of the writing means you are there. As a reader you are present within this novel and for the message it brings home this feeling of connection is so important.
When we meet these three women they are all somewhat disconnected from the world. All are grieving, all feeling the effects of lost and all seem to be on the outside of their lives looking in. There is a sense of these women trying to find their place in the world, trying to push back against a complex web of family relationships and past grief.
Within this context, this novel is a meditation on the treatment of women. Despite some hard scenes of physical abuse, the most striking and distracting element to the narrative is the inherently casual nature of the abuse of women. There is recurring and underlying feeling that it is, and always has been, expected and indeed accepted that women will be mistreated, minimised and ultimately silenced.
The men portrayed in this novel aren’t comic book villains. They are rounded, functioning, successful participants in normal life, each displaying a softer side. So when the pivotal moments of abuse occur, it’s ingrained and almost incidental nature is even more shocking. Through their words and deeds Wyld upholds a sickening sense of inevitability; that men will use women, that there will be reasons and excuses, and that blame will always lie with the female of the species.
This is the key thread that binds these women. With it’s reoccurring motifs of foxes, wolves and dogs there is the pervading sense of the hunter and the hunted running through the pages.
But there is hope, and that hope is found in the ties that bind the women themselves. The answers are found in the shared history of these women, both within the present, the recent shared past and the more distance past. For this novel has a supernatural element, a gentle and ongoing presence in the house which never feels out of place or contrived. Instead it feels essential, as if some female presence in the house is bearing continuous witness.
This book is stunning. It made me laugh, it made me angry, it made me hope. It has important things to say, and it deserves every ounce of the praise that is being heaped upon it.
This one is a must read.
As this powerful, compelling and skilfully multilayered story moves backwards and forwards in time, the reader becomes witness to brutal murders, domestic violence - both physical and mental - rape, marital rape, mutilation, manipulation and more. So not a novel I can say I exactly enjoyed, but the writing is stunning and the feeling of menace, prevalent from the first page to the last, draws the reader in and keeps them gripped from beginning to end. An angry, painful and haunting story of male violence against women and one that I can’t stop thinking about.
It’s theme is very dark. Violence runs right through it like an artery but it’s also full of love and hope. I couldn’t put it down.