A lyrical novel heavy with mythological overtones.
Richard, a professor of Romantic and Victorian literature, has just taken a bride 40 years his junior. For their honeymoon, she wants to go somewhere—anywhere—by the sea, so she closes her eyes, sticks a pin on a map and opens them to find she’s “chosen” a remote island off northern Scotland. Coincidentally, this is near the area where she was born, but when Richard presses her about her family and her childhood, she becomes distant and elusive. Richard’s particular area of academic interest and expertise is folklore, especially phantasmic and elusive women like La Belle Dame Sans Merci, Undine and Vivien (lover of Merlin). Richard’s wife, who remains unnamed, also seems to partake of this spectral reality, for even though she’s 21, she has pure white hair and a wraithlike appearance. The novel chronicles the roughly two weeks of their honeymoon, as Richard finds himself alternately bewitched and puzzled by his new wife, who spends much of her time watching the tempestuous sea even though she’s afraid of its power and can’t swim. She’s also haunted almost nightly by vivid and disturbing dreams of water and being drowned. Although Richard could not be characterized as blissfully happy, he is deeply in love with his enigmatic wife. At the end of their honeymoon, however, the inevitable happens—she disappears mysteriously, seemingly absorbed back into the natural world which she’s both alienated from and attracted to.
Sackville writes like a dream (in all senses), conveying both the uncanny power of love and the inscrutable heartbreak of loss.