In the vein of Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, The Watch House by Bernie McGill is the story of the modern world arriving on Rathlin, a remote Irish island, at the very end of the nineteenth century, with dramatic consequences for a young woman named Nuala.
As the twentieth century dawns on the island of Rathlin, a place ravaged by storms and haunted by past tragedies, Nuala Byrne is faced with a difficult decision. Abandoned by her family for the new world, she receives a proposal from the island’s aging tailor. For the price of a roof over her head, she accepts.
Meanwhile the island is alive with gossip about the strangers who have arrived from the mainland, armed with mysterious equipment which can reportedly steal a person’s words and transmit them through thin air.
“The Watch House” by Bernie McGill is an intriguing novel.
Set on Rathlin island, just off the coast of Ireland, it tells the story of Nuala Byrne and her search for love and family. Her parents emigrate to Newfoundland, leaving her with her grandparents, but with the promise that they will send for her. However, the promise is not fulfilled and Nuala finds herself with the possibility of having no home. She accepts the proposal of the Tailor, a man much older than she is, and moves in with him and his sister, Ginny.
Nuala’s dull, loveless life is changed when several men, including Italian Gabriel Donati, arrive on the island at the behest of Marconi. They are there to experiment with wireless communication and Nuala is employed to cook for them. From this time onwards, Nuala’s life takes a different course.
I found this novel to be very interesting. The author had obviously researched the subject of Marconi’s experiments thoroughly and her love of the landscape of the island is plain to see from her descriptions. However, this isn’t a novel that is merely a vehicle for explaining facts. It tells a very moving story of a young woman finding and losing love; of deep friendship and of loyalty. Well worth reading!
I am grateful to NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this novel.
Meet the Author:
Bernie McGill lives in Portstewart in Northern Ireland. Her first novel The Butterfly Cabinet was published in the UK and Ireland in August 2010 by Headline Review and in the US by Free Press in July 2011. It is available in an Italian translation – La donna che collezionava farfalle – published by Bollati Boringhieri and in Dutch – Charlotte’s vleugels – published by De Fontein. A new edition including new material on the origins of the story appeared in Autumn 2016 by Tinder Press. Bernie’s new book The Watch House was published by Tinder Press in 2017.
Sleepwalkers, Bernie’s first collection of short stories, was published in May 2013 by Whittrick Press and shortlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize 2014. The title story was first prizewinner in the Zoetrope: All-Story Short Fiction Contest (US) and the collection includes ‘Home’, a supplementary prizewinner in the 2010 Bridport Short Story Prize and ‘No Angel’, Second Prizewinner in the Seán Ó Faoláin and the Michael McLaverty Short Story Prizes. Her work has been anthologised in The Long Gaze Back and in the forthcoming The Glass Shore. She is the recipient of a number of Arts Council Awards including an ACES Award in association with the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s University, Belfast and an award from the Society of Authors.