The Bass Rock is a beautiful, dark and thought-provoking book which, we predict, is destined for awards.

Rooted in a grand coastal house on the Firth of Forth in Scotland, this is in many ways a domestic tale – but it is not a cosy one. It is a gothic story of menacing men and compromised women. It is a clarion call. It is impossible to put down.

The Bass Rock focuses on three unhappy females, in three separate time frames. The house in Scotland links them all.

In the first strand, we meet Viviane, a millennial Londoner struggling to come to terms with the death of her father. Just shy of her fortieth birthday, she puts off the serious business of life by agreeing to clear out her grandmother’s pile in Scotland before it is sold.

Next, we follow Ruth Hamilton, a glamorous but troubled housewife trying to make a life with her stepsons and widowed husband in a posh new house in Musselburgh shortly after the war.

In the third strand, we find Sarah, a young Scottish girl of the 1700s, condemned by villagers as a witch and rescued by a grief-stricken local family on a mission.

Men are rarely a pleasant influence on any of the above (notwithstanding Viviane’s late father and Ruth’s deceased brother). Boring and irritating at the very least, the male of the species is portrayed as predatory and violent at worst. Misogyny, domestic violence and the abuse of power abound.

Just thinking about the hateful Reverend John Brown makes you shudder and want to shower immediately. The men of Musselburgh – through all three of the ages – seem sinister. Peter Hamilton is a snake. Viviane’s boyfriend Vincent is thoroughly disappointing. Her brother-in-law Dom turns bad. Even Sarah’s sweet saviour Joseph becomes nasty in the end.

Throughout this complex, beautiful, disturbing novel, Wyld’s anger at the patriarchy is the book’s key theme, though the lesser ones are just as grittily intriguing. The Bass Rock scrutinizes madness; it examines the nuances of the sibling relationship; it delves into the use of alcohol as medicine (martinis, snowballs, whisky, sherry, gin, wine, beer – no tincture is left untouched).

What it also evokes is the intricacies of a woman’s psyche with awesome accuracy. The protagonists are strong and self-aware but self-conscious and uncertain. With all the ambivalence of the female condition, they ask: Who do we want to be? How do others perceive us? Are we getting life right? Ruth speaks volumes when she says: ‘Just tell me how she would do it and I will do it like her.’

The book’s structure can be challenging. It requires concentration. As you get to grips, though, you observe fiendishly clever motifs running through the separate stories. Tickling is a grim one; the sound of breaking waves is another; women as puppets is a third; nail varnish and pineapples recur; fertility is never far from the surface.

This is Wyld’s third novel; she won awards for her first two. With writing so clear, observations so keen and such an important point to make, she’s sure to pick up a few more for The Bass Rock.

It is a giant of a book. Its messages are so big and it provokes so much thought that it could, in fact, be several books. While the third strand, the 18th-century one, brims with potential as a story on its own, it doesn’t weave as well into the wider narrative as it might. Tearing along with either Viviane or Ruth, you can feel a bit flat when Sarah comes back into play.

But sit down and strap yourself in even so: The Bass Rock will take you on a ride. It won’t always be comfortable but you’ll be compelled to reach the end.

For more on Evie Wyld, do read herguest edit here, where she shows us around her digital stomping ground.

The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld is published by Jonathan Cape. It is available to buy from all good book shops and Amazon.

By Becky Ladenburg
June 2020


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Becky Ladenburg

Features Editor

As the GWG's features editor, Becky has her discerning finger on the cultural pulse. She's also our go-to expert on the property market.