Audrey Hart is on the Isle of Skye to collect the folk and fairy tales of the people and communities around her. It is 1857 and the Highland Clearances have left devastation and poverty, and a community riven by fear. The crofters are suspicious and hostile to a stranger, claiming they no longer know their fireside stories.
Then Audrey discovers the body of a young girl washed up on the beach and the crofters reveal that it is only a matter of weeks since another girl disappeared. They believe the girls are the victims of the restless dead: spirits who take the form of birds.
Initially, Audrey is sure the girls are being abducted, but as events accumulate she begins to wonder if something else is at work. Something which may be linked to the death of her own mother, many years before.
With thanks to the publisher for the copy received. When Audrey travels to Skye to help capture the folktales from the islanders she isn’t prepared for what faces her. She is running away from her life in London, the details why are revealed as you read. But she is heading into danger. A danger that it is unclear whether it comes from the legends or reality.
This book had everything I enjoy. I do know that the fairy tales I read as a child were made less intimidating by the Brothers Grimm. The ones that are mentioned in the book have really ignited my interest in the original stories. It was interesting to see the frustration felt by this practice as well as the determination of others that the legends should be forgotten.
I was aware of how women were regarded at this time, some of the changes that were starting to emerge at time were part of the storyline. They helped create a true picture of how life was for Audrey with her father. The history of the cleansing of Shetland I had never heard of. I was shocked by the level of callousness and disregard for the islanders. Sadly it was also believable. The author has provided links to more information about this which I plan to look at in the future.
The mystery of the missing girls and the storyline concerning the disappearance of Audrey’s mother is just one small part of this novel. It interested me and I was aching to know what happened but for me the fascination was the legends, gaining trust from the community and the superstitions.
Just after 11am on 4th August 1892, the bodies of Andrew and Abby Borden are discovered. He’s found on the sitting room sofa, she upstairs on the bedroom floor, both murdered with an axe.
It is younger daughter Lizzie who is first on the scene, so it is Lizzie who the police first question, but there are others in the household with stories to tell: older sister Emma, Irish maid Bridget, the girls’ Uncle John, and a boy who knows more than anyone realises.
In a dazzlingly original and chilling reimagining of this most notorious of unsolved mysteries, Sarah Schmidt opens the door to the Borden home and leads us into its murkiest corners, where jealousies, slow-brewed rivalries and the darkest of thoughts reside.
See What I Have Done is a brilliant novel and is definitely one of the strangest ones that I have read. I had been aware of the rhyme about Lizzie Bordern but had never given any thought to its origin. Sarah Schmidt has given us an account of what could have happened in 1892 and it is a convincing one.
There are four narrators who tell us their version of events of what happened on the 3rd and 4th August. Lizzie, her older sister Emma, Bridget, their Irish maid and Benjamin an acquaintance of their uncle.
Bridget was the only one of the four who I had any liking for, she is certainly the only one who showed any sign of grief over the deaths. She had a fractious relationship with her employers, but also enjoyed some good times with Abby. Emma appeared to resent the preferential treatment that Lizzie received and tried to keep some distance from Lizzie. But like the other family members she is manipulated into letting Lizzie have her way. Benjamin is hired to do a job and is desperate for money. unlikable and untrustworthy and completely out of his depth. And then there is Lizzie. God-fearing, pigeon loving, spoilt and at times cruel. She wanted to possess Emma, have her as her puppet and is resentful that she wanted her own life away from her.
As well as the murders there is a suspicious mutton stew that made everybody who ate it ill. There is also a lot of focus on an abundance of pears which strangely managed to put me off eating them for the forseeable future. The violent deaths are not the main focus in the novel, the reader is aware of the aftermath with the description of the scene after the murders. There is an image of the murder scene, with blood splatter and bone fragments vividly described. Most of the novel assesses the different personalities and at times toxic relationships.
I feel that this novel would make a brilliant movie, it’s just amazing.
It begins with a painting won in a raffle: fifteen sunflowers, hung on the wall by a woman who believes that men and boys are capable of beautiful things.
And then there are two boys, Ellis and Michael,
who are inseparable.
And the boys become men,
and then Annie walks into their lives,
and it changes nothing and everything.
There is a quotation from Ellis’s mother that is mentioned a few times in this glorious book – ‘Men and boys should be capable of beautiful things.’ Dora only appears for a short time in this book but she was a character I warmed to instantly.
The novel concerns three friends Ellis, Michael and Annie. After a short but entertaining prologue, where you realise what type of woman Dora is, it moves forward in time to 1996. Ellis is in his mid-forties and struggling to move on from the death of his wife and best friend five years earlier. When he has an accident, and is off work he recalls his relationship with both of them.
I had never read any of Sarah Winman’s earlier novels so had no idea of how beautiful her writing was. Tin Man is only a short novel which I read in a day. But despite being short it has plenty of detail. There was the loss of loved ones, how they coped at the time and in later life. Ellis’s attempts to repair the relationship with his father which gave him the push to fulfil is promise to his mother. When the narrative switched to Michael it detailed how loyal he was to those he connected with. The time he gave to G. and Chris was humbling.
It was just the right length of novel, it is ram packed with emotion. If it had been longer it probably wouldn’t have had the same impact. Despite only making brief appearances Dora and Mabel showed that they wouldn’t be beaten or bullied into submission. Or turn away from somebody who needed love.
Tin Man was a novel that will stay in my thoughts for some time.