Title: The Bass Rock
Author: Evie Wyld
Published: February 4th 2020
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Historical
Rating: 3.5 stars
The lives of three women weave together across four centuries in the dazzling new book from Evie Wyld, winner of the Miles Franklin Award.
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.
‘She did not much like the rock; Fidra and Craigleith she saw as charming additions punctuation in the grey North Sea, but something about Bass Rock was so misshapen.’
The release of Miles Franklin award winning author Evie Wyld’s latest novel has been described by her publisher Penguin Books Australia as ‘a major publishing event’. This statement definitely caught my eye. The Bass Rock is an intricate tapestry of three powerful stories, all defined by the perpetuation of violence and suppression of women, across the ages. The looming presence of the haunting Scottish locale of Bass Rock, bears down on this sombre and affecting tale.
A formidable figure bursting forth from the ocean, Bass Rock signals a place of mourning, violence, misconception and suppression. Over the course of many years, this dark locale has witnessed witch trials, the aftermath of the devastation of World War II and now the sinking loss of a loved one in the present day. Travelling from the 1700s through to the 1940s, and back to the present day, Bass Rock navigates a series of three stories of women’s decisions, movements, lives and burdens. It is a story of survival and life itself, as Wyld’s novel charts an inhospitable world inhabited by her female leads.
There is a great deal of praise directed towards Evie Wyld, the author of The Bass Rock. I have a copy of both After the Fire, A Still Small Voice and All the Birds, Singing, which I hope to get to now I have sampled Wyld’s writing. There is no doubt that The Bass Rock is defined by effectual storytelling and I admired the author’s intentions with her latest set piece.
The Bass Rock is a creative an ambitious undertaking. As an avid reader I was definitely challenged by this book. I had to work hard to grasp all three of the threads of this novel. They are not headed by time and location references, instead they are separated by roman numerals. It took some time for me come to grips with this structure and I continued to work hard at gaining the upper hand over the book, rather than spiralling into a pit of confusion. I saw many glimpses of brilliance in this novel. I appreciated the subject focus, being on the suppression of women, but also their empowerment. This is a raw, timely and receptive text that I think will strike a chord with readers. However, I did feel some disconnection and haziness while reading this text.
As a fan of historical fiction, I was excited about the prospect of a witchcraft narrative and a World War II storyline, all within the same layout. There were definitely glimmers of interest in these storylines and I appreciated Wyld’s approach, which zoned in one woman’s experiences of these times. At times these threads presented themselves as unforgiving, raw and cutting. The realness of it all makes for an unsteady and confronting read. What became remarkably clear while reading The Bass Rock was the central patterns of violence, trauma, suppressed and silenced across years, decades and centuries. It is a stark reality, yet still deeply upsetting for the reader. This is the central valve that runs along The Bass Rock.
Bass Rock itself is beautifully realised and the prose in general has a rolling poetic quality. Evie Wyld transported me to this crashing locale with a state of ease, which is due to the work of her imagery. Bass Rock is definitely the pinnacle of this tale, rising above this rousing tale of control, power and sacrifice. It is a poignant beacon in this stirring presentation.
In a world where we just opening our eyes to female experiences, both in the present and the past, The Bass Rock is an important literary agent, highlighting the perpetuation of violence and trauma towards women.
The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld was published on February 4th 2020 by Penguin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Bass Rock, Evie Wyld, visit here.
*I wish to thank Penguin Books Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
The Bass Rock is book #33 of the 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge