I was drawn to this novel by Sharon Gosling as soon as I read the blurb on NetGalley. I enjoy novels where a character has the bravery to start over, especially if the ‘before’ meant overcoming some sort of adversity. For Anna, a talented chef who decides to move to a tiny village on the coast of Scotland, it’s overcoming years of psychological abuse from her boss and partner, Jeff. They met at catering college and ever since Anna has been working under him in London, helping him to earn several Michelin stars over the years. However, Anna has never really acknowledged or even felt entitled to that success, because Jeff has always told her she needs a strong leader, she’s best in a supporting role; she hasn’t the talent to survive on her own. So, after their split, she moves to the other end of the country and to a bothy in a tiny fishing village on the Moray Firth. Crovie is a village that survives despite everything the sea can throw at it. Under a huge cliff, it has survived storms and landslides in the past. It has the remoteness that Anna is looking for, but as she first sets foot in her new home ‘Fishergirl’s Luck’ she wonders if she can really live in a place like this? However, whether it’s the sea air, the villagers or a blessing from a previous single woman who lived there, Anna soon feels inspired. Could this be the perfect place for a foodie to start a new venture?
The setting was so beautifully rendered throughout the novel. There’s something forbidding about the position of the village, wedged between the cliff and the roaring sea. It’s so vividly portrayed I could almost feel the salt spray on my cheeks and the wind whipping my hair around. Anna’s connection with nature is unexpected and deeply inspiring. She clambers over the rocks, goes out on the boat to see dolphins and collects purslane and razor clams. The sea is both friend and foe, bringer of food and providing work for the fishermen, but also the force that batters the cliffs and erodes the very soil under Crovie. Then in complete contrast we have ‘The Fishergirl’s Luck’ and the way it feels so inhospitable at first, way too small to live in, let alone cook in. Yet, as soon as Anna starts to clean and turn it into a home, something warm and cozy emerges from the dust and grime. Just like the village seems almost pitted against nature, Anna has had to pit herself against the bothy. Now it feels like a shelter, somewhere that will keep her safe.
When she finds previous tenant Brenda’s recipe book and makes her hazelnut and raspberry shortbread, something connects the two women across time. This aspect was interesting because it seems as if Brenda used to receive the similar treatment from the local fishermen, that Anna has received from Jeff. Especially from the irascible Doug McKean who seems to think he was cheated out of the bothy by Brenda and intends to keep the grudge going through Anna’s time there. Brenda wanted to fish in her own right, something the men found ridiculous. She found and fished her own boat, maintained the cottage and named it. Something of Bren’s spirit gets into Anna and it’s like nothing can hold her back – even Jeff turning up all the way to life-changing surprises, she takes them in her stride. She also takes strength from wonderful neighbours like Pat and John, local potter Rhona, fisherman Liam and both young and old Robbie. She meets Liam while looking for fresh fish in hope of reviving her a lunch she’s planning. He brings her a table and bench for the garden that sparks an idea – what if she started a lunch club outside for the summer? Although she thought she’d bought the cottage from an elderly man, Auld Robbie, he turns out to be younger than she expected and a widower with an adorable son. Young Robbie is obsessed with a pod of dolphins in the bay and their welfare is all important to him. Every day he checks them, and asks Anna to join them.
I loved watching her circle widen and her confidence beginning to return. Bren’s notebook is the re-birth of Anna’s love of food and it is her food. Away from any other influence she is now free to experiment and do things her way. I really enjoyed the foraging for ingredients and descriptions of her dishes, which sound delicious rather than fussy or refined. However, I was interested to find out whether she kept her confidence, particularly when old pressures and influences surfaced? There are a lot of books around where a woman makes a new start and often they’re too saccharin or unbelievable. This had it’s predictable moments, but every so often there was enough of a curve ball to to make it feel fresh. The author wasn’t above giving her heroine some mountains to climb here and there, both positive and negative. Anna is a brave woman though and not above taking risks – she’s bought a house without viewing it, started a lunch club in the open air in Scotland, taken on the local misanthrope and accepted the more unexpected surprises life has thrown at her. As a big summer storm approached I wondered whether the luck of the cottage would hold? If not, would Anna take the easy option and leave Crovie or will she keep fighting for what she wants? Blessed with charming locals, stunning scenery and an interesting history, Crovie was a lovely place to spend a few hours.
Meet The Author.
Sharon Gosling lives with her husband in a very remote village in northern Cumbia, where they moved to run a second-hand bookshop, Withnail Books in Penrith. She began her career in entertainment journalism, writing for magazines in the science fiction and fantasy genre, before moving on to write tie-in books for TV shows such as Stargate and the ‘re-imagined’ Battlestar Galactica. She has also written, produced, and directed audio dramas based in the same genre. When she’s not writing, she creates beautiful linocut artwork and is the author of multiple children’s books. The House Beneath the Cliffs is her first adult novel. Follow her at @sharongosling.