#blogtour The Watch House by Bernie McGill @berniemcgill @Phoebe_Swinburn @TinderPress

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The Watch House by Bernie McGill  Tinder Press 10th August 2017

Rathlin Island lies off the cost of Country Antrim and is the northernmost point in Northern Island. In 1898 the East Lighthouse on Rathlin was used by Gulielmo Marconi to successfully transmit the first commercial  radio signals across water from the lighthouse to Ballycastle on the Northern Irish mainland.

Rathlin Island is also an island full of myth and folklore, an island that in 1898 was still somehow stuck in a time warp, many unwilling to embrace the new fashions and ways that were slowly creeping in from the mainland.

It was also a time of great hardship as islanders struggled to scrape a living, many leaving for the mainland or emigrating to America to seek their fortune.

Set against this backdrop we meet Nuala, alone in her family home barely earning enough to keep herself clothed and fed. Her parents, brother and sisters long since gone to Newfoundland and her grandparents now dead, Nuala is waiting for her parents to send money for the passage to join them. When word from her family arrives that life is not much better and funds are not available Nuala is forced into accepting a marriage proposal from the Tailor. Moving into to his newly renovated house she is unprepared for the wrath of his sister Ginnie, who treats her pretty much as the housemaid and with obvious contempt.

When engineers from the mainland arrive to carry out experiments with wireless telegraphy on behalf of Marconi she is sent by Ginnie, always eager to make money, to cook their evening meal. What Nuala doesn't expect is her friendship with the engineer Gabriel, a man who recognises Nuala's intelligence and to the annoyance of local lighthouse keeper Tam Casey, teaches her the rudiments of morse code and telegraphy. As their friendship turns to love Nuala's  marriage to the tailor, and life with his sister becomes a prison from which there is no escape and events slowly spiral out of control changing Nuala's life forever.

From the heartrending first chapter this novel drew me in and didn't let me go until i read the last page and closed the book.

First of all we had the island setting. An island that could be beautiful one minute, and wild and desolate, cut off from the mainland next. An island where the community is tight knit, where everyone knows everyone's business, where secrets are hard to keep.

Then you have the characters. Nuala, alone, slightly apart from the rest of her community, willing to accept her lot in life, yet willing to take risks realising her love for Gabriel may be the only chance she has of happiness no matter how shortlived.

Gabriel, Italian, full of new ideas, patient teacher, drawing Nuala in, promising nothing, yet always the perfect gentleman, always honest about his feelings for Nuala and their relationship.

The Tailor is portrayed as a pathetic, weak man, forever under the influence of sister Ginnie. Ginnie, herself is bitter and twisted, jealous of Nuala's intrusion in the life she shares with her brother.  Her actions are those of an unhappy woman, a woman who thinks nothing of inflicting the cruelest thing imaginable on Nuala, never once thinking of the consequences.

This fantastic combination of setting and characterisation are wonderfully done by McGill. The island's weather perfectly matches the mood of the characters, creating wonderful imagery and drama. I had vivid images of Nuala battling the wind and the rain as she roamed the island in despair.

McGill cleverly weaved in the story of Marconi and the development of telegraphy and communications, using it to highlight the slow disintegration of island life, of the diminishing belief in the old ways and folklore, so prevalent on the island. You could clearly see the future for those island folk who resented and feared the new ways.

McGill has written a novel that will have you feeling a full range of emotions, from despair and anger to sheer joy. I have to admit to shedding a tear at the end, a sign of a novel that has held me in its clutches and not let me go until the very end.

I was delighted to be invited on the blogtour for The Watch House and would like to thank @Phoebe_Swinburn and @TinderPress for a proof copy to read and review.

 

 

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I was even more delighted to learn that The Watch House has made the longlist of The Guardian's Not The Booker Prize.

About the author.

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Bernie McGill was born and raised in Northern Ireland. She attended Queen's University, Belfast and published her first novel, The Butterfly Cabinet in 2011.

McGill was also shortlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize for Sleepwalkers, her collection of short stories.

Bernie lives in Portstewart, Northern Ireland with her family.

 

 

 

 

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