There are a lot of damaged people in this story. It tells us how survival in the face of life’s dreadfulness is a triumph in itself. Of course, it is not the case that life is dreadful for everyone, but when it is, it is truly, unutterably dreadful.
There is Euan, who is the victim of a hit and run accident. There is Justine, who calls an ambulance, but dare not do any more because she is fleeing from her vicious boyfriend. There is Michael, Euan’s father, who has been traumatised by the unfaithfulness of his wife, Hannah. She in turn cannot believe that she was so stupid, and that it has led to the collapse of her marriage. Their other son, Ross, is too young to understand what is happening but is bewildered by the collapse of his world. And there is Johnny, who is older than Ross, and who is grieving for a father killed in Afghanistan. And there is Charlie Boy, Justine’s boyfriend, a Glasgow hardman who can only achieve self-worth through the viciousness of his thuggery.
They all come together in a small village in Argyll, near Dunadd, because Michael and Hannah decide to move to his ancestral home – Kilmacarra – in order to salvage what they can of their marriage. It is there that Euan is hit by a car while out running. It is in Kilmacarra that Justine seeks sanctuary, mainly because it was on the route of the first bus out of Glasgow, and it was by accident that she ended up there.
The area around Dunadd, where the kings of Dalriada were proclaimed, is a sacred landscape of the neolithic age or, perhaps, even earlier. There are cairns, standing stones, burial mounds, sacred groves. These are essential to the story, not just as a landscape but as a driving force in the story (shades of Iain Maloney’s “Silma Hill”, which is set in the same area). The landscape is faced with enormous changes because of a proposal to build wind farms, and the community is divided on what they should do. Some are in favour of the progress that the scheme will bring, others are appalled by the visible change to their physical environment.
Karen Campbell is a deft storyteller. She weaves all the threads together with a consummate skill, taking her readers to some very unexpected places in the process. When you meet Alan, the most damaged character of all, you begin to understand what has driven Michael to the depths of his despair. It is only then that you realise how difficult it will be to repair the lives of these people and, of course, it is the case that some of them are beyond redemption.
Like Doug Johnstone’s “The Jump” this is not a book to read if you want it all to end happily ever after. This is no fairy tale where people are having an adventure. What happens to the people in this book is extremely unpleasant, as they confront their own demons or are possessed by them.
This is a book for those who believe in the possibility of hope.