Out 29th January.
This is the perfect book to read on a really chilly winter’s night. It’s the story of the Moorcroft family. Angus and Sarah were the parents of two beautiful blonde-haired, blue-eyed twins, Kirstie and Lydia. However, after a tragic accident at Sarah’s parent’s house, Lydia fell from a balcony to her death. Eighteen months on, the family are all struggling, individually, with their grief. Kirstie is, understandably, bereft without her twin sister; her other half. Sarah feels guilty as she had thought the girls were outside playing, until she heard the screams. And Angus feels guilty as he was late getting to Sarah’s parents’ that weekend. After a lot of alcohol, combined with guilt and anger, he punches his boss at the architects’ practice where he works, and is sacked. The Camden home he and Sarah had bought for their family life is now unaffordable. But there is another option on the (far) horizon: Angus’s grandmother has died, and left Angus and his brother Eilean Torran (Thunder Island), just off Skye. His brother lets Angus keep the whole legacy; he lives in the States and is doing well. Angus has wonderful memories of childhood and teenage summers spent on the island, and persuades Sarah that a fresh start, away from all the bad memories, is exactly what the family need. The house hasn’t been lived in for some time, and is pretty delapidated, but once they pay their debts off, they reckon they should have enough cash to rebuild it. Angus intends to look for work as an architect in the area, and Sarah, a freelance journalist, hopes to do some part-time work from there too.
However, before they even move, Kirstie has a revelation. She claims not to be loud, mischievous Kirstie (her father’s favourite), but bookish, quiet Lydia, who is more like her mother, and is her favourite. It’s certainly not impossible, as the twins were utterly identical – not a mole, nor a freckle, differentiated them. Did they make an assumption, after the accident, that their daughter has hitherto been frightened to correct? Or is this part of her mourning process – is she unable to let her sister go? Sarah starts to notice things that could indicate that her surviving daughter is Lydia – for example, their spaniel, Sawny Bean, or Beanie, reacted differently to each girl. And the way he’s behaving now is how he behaved with Lydia. Or could he just be atuned to a mourning child? And there are no definitive scientific tests which will reveal which daughter survived.
With this revelation hanging over them they head north. Eileen Torran is very remote: at low tide it’s possible to walk across the mudflats, but the rest of the time a boat is required to reach the island. The house is in a dreadful state: freezing cold, full of rats, filthy…And Beany is clearly unsettled in his new home, as is Kirstie (who they have now decided is Lydia) – she keeps saying that her dead twin hasn’t left her, and talks away in the strange nonsensical way she did with her dead sister. When she does this in her new school, it results – not surprisingly – in the other children being terrified of her, and she is unable to settle or make any friends. The school ask the Moorcrofts to remove their daughter for a short time, until things are calmer. Meanwhile, revelations about Angus’s relationship with Sarah’s hitherto best friend fracture the marriage further, as does Angus’s continued reliance on alcohol. Sarah eventually asks Angus to spend a couple of nights elsewhere, while she and Lydia remain on Eilean Torran alone, despite being told this is unwise, because of the impending storm. Sarah wants the time to consider what to do about other dreadful things she has convinced herself Angus has done. And then the storm hits the island…Sarah and Kirsty are trapped there, with their telephone down. The boat has been washed away. Angus is similarly stranded across the Sound…And Sarah becomes convinced she and her daughter are not alone on Eilean Torran…
This is one of these books where the sense of menace and impending doom winds faster and faster, until you can’t bear to put the book down – it demands you to read on, to discover what other dreadful things are in store. In this respect, it reminds me just a little of The Shining (remote setting, possible mental disturbances, being trapped by the weather, creepy twins..!) I’ve no idea who SK Tremayne is (it’s a pseudonym), but it’s difficult to believe this isn’t the work of an experienced author, judging by the skilful way s/he ratchets up the tension (although I suspect it’s a he!) The isolated, claustrophobic setting is also absolutely ideal. And it’s clearly an area the author knows well, and loves – s/he also understands the issues facing Scotland’s beautiful rural areas – the incomers, pricing locals out of the housing market; the locals, still struggling to eke a living fishing, and crofting, and farming; the local pubs, transforming themselves into seafood restaurants to appeal to the Southerners with plenty of money…I know Peter May’s Lewis Trilogy was set on the Outer Hebrides, which are less accessible and so less attractive to those seeking a weekend or holiday bolthole, but Tremayne’s depiction of modern Hebridean life chimed more closely with my experience.
In one respect, this is a book about the secrets that exist within families, sometimes as a (possibly misguided) way of protecting others – and their opinion of us. It’s about how, despite our best efforts, we can end up repeating the mistakes our parents made. It’s also about guilt, and grief, and the unreliability of memory. To reiterate, this is perfect winter reading. Just don’t bank on getting a lot of sleep once you’ve started it…
4.5 out of 5
I received a digital ARC courtesy of NetGalley and publishers HarperCollins.
Have you read The Ice Twins? Or do you fancy it? Let me know your thoughts on my review, the book, or any book-related matters – I love to hear from you!