ROMANCEWhenever anybody mentions romantic fiction I find my knee-jerk reaction is to immediately claim that I don't like it, but on reflection I'm not sure how true that is. Romance surely doesn't have to mean pink covers, feeble heroines and slush? There are plenty of classic novels and books of all genres that contain love stories as part of a wider plot, some which I have enjoyed very much. The reviews I had read of Emotional Geology suggested that it is a mature and realistic take on the love story, so it seemed like a good one to try.
Rose is a woman on the run - not from a physical enemy but from her memories and the skeletons in her closet. She's been through an agonising break-up, her relationship with her only daughter is strained, and any friends she once had have grown distant. The only way she can possibly conceive of getting her life back on track is to pack up the essentials and move as far away from her old world as she can imagine. She arrives at her little cottage on the island of Uist determined to clear her mind of any distractions, throwing herself into a reclusive existence devoted to her work as a textile artist.
Of course, if fiction has taught us anything it's that no matter how remote the location or improbable the situation, the likelihood is that an attractive man will turn up and thoroughly complicate matters. Enter Calum, a born-and-bred Uist man who writes poetry and teaches at the local school. Initially Rose thinks his brooding demeanour and fondness for whisky is just the Hebridean way, but in actual fact he has emotional scars of his own that he is trying to hide.
I have to be honest and say that the romance in this novel didn't especially grab me. The two main characters are both well-developed and likeable, and the plot held my interest sure enough, but I guess romance just isn't my subject matter of choice.
Where it excelled for me is in Gillard's portrayal of the landscape of Uist. Let's put it this way; I had never even heard of the place before reading Emotional Geology. But now after I've finished it, my boyfriend is slightly puzzled by the stream of hints I have been dropping about summer holidaying in the Outer Hebrides. She perfectly conveys the bleak beauty that is to be found there. I got completely lost in her descriptions of the wild beaches and stone circles. The sense of island life you get is also really interesting - a strange middle ground between complete isolation and a claustrophobic sense of everybody knowing everybody else's business. It definitely has a sure spot on my 'places I must visit' list (I mean, look at it!).
I was also impressed by the way in which Rose's bipolar disorder was dealt with. I can't think of many books I've read that have illustrated the manic phase of this illness particularly well - unfortunately I can think of a handful of titles that have done it especially badly, where characters have suddenly turned into some caricature of a psychotic monster and lost all sense of reality! But it was done very sensitively here and I thought the frenetic, disorganised thought patterns were shown perfectly.
While I can't say I'm converted to romantic fiction in general, this book has reminded me that it isn't all fluffy and overly sentimental. I will certainly be looking for more of Linda Gillard's books to try. If you like to read love stories then you should definitely consider giving this a go.