A curious, sometimes-comic tale of female friendship set on a remote Scottish island fuses the bizarre, the banal, and the miraculous.
In her debut novel, English poet and short-story writer Readman explores the contrasting perspectives of two teenagers whose uneasy relationship as friends and neighbors begins when Lorrie Wilson and her family return to live on the island where her grandfather runs a whisky distillery. The next-door cottage is inhabited by widowed Bunny Tyler and her daughter, Sylvie, a shy, sealed-up child who is as unpopular at school as Lorrie is quickly popular. Set first in 1957 and then 1960, Readman’s quirky story happily evokes the texture of daily life in a distant place and era—Tupperware boxes, biscuit barrels, Mario Lanza on the radio, Domestic Science classes, and portable record players. In this world, Lorrie tends toward the predictable, finding a new, more glamorous friend called Blair and beginning to experiment with boys. Sylvie, meanwhile, retains her oddness, wearing shapeless, ugly clothes and refusing to kiss a boy who, surprisingly, is attracted to her. Her secret and Bunny’s smotheringly repressive response to it contrast with Lorrie’s warmer but still mildly peculiar household, from which her father disappears for several days, then returns without shoes or car, having given them away to needier folk. Odd and slightly out-of-kilter, Readman’s narrative has an essential deadpan charm, dotted with striking, sideways observations, yet her inventive premise, once launched, seems to run short of ideas as to where it might go. Nevertheless, and despite its simplicity, the story lends itself to multiple layers of interpretation and metaphor—the limits of friendship; mythmaking; the unavoidable exploration of self—and ends with a breezy admission of life’s opacity.
An offbeat, enigmatic parable of otherness and attachment, with a style to match.