Sometimes you read a book and you just aren’t sure why you didn’t enjoy it more. Perhaps other things were going on in your life at the time or maybe you were just too tired. It’s hard to say. Sadly this is where I am with The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine. The more I think about this book, the more I wonder about the elements that are similar to other books I have enjoyed along the way. Did I pick it up because I like stories about incomprehensible, unhappy marriages such as Rebecca? Perhaps the setting in the far north of Scotland reminded me of the recently read Ice Twins? Did the house itself, a ruin trapped by tides, remind me of The Woman in Black? Did the story being split between the present day and just before the war remind me of almost any novel by Kate Morton? It’s hard to say, but all I do know is that it didn’t quite work.
There is no doubt in my mind that Sarah Maine can write very well, but I’m not really sure what this book gained from the present day component. The bulk of the story focuses on marriage of Theo and Beatrice Blake. Theo, an artist of considerable renown, takes his new wife to Muirlan, his family home in the Outer Hebrides. Having experienced all the joy that marriage can bring, whilst in Edinburgh, this move bodes ill for the Blakes as Theo becomes more and more withdrawn. Beatrice struggles to understand what motivates her husband in both his actions and dealings with the other islanders and bit by bit the pair become more and more removed from each other.
The modern aspect of the story focuses on Theo Blake’s last known relation, Hetty Deveraux travelling to Muirlan from London to lay claim to what remains of the property. Upon arrival she finds the house in ruins and a skeleton beneath the floorboards. The novel then turns on the question of whose body is it and why was it hidden at Muirlan?
My problem with this book doesn’t stem from the fact that it’s not a good enough story, but rather that the story of Theo and Beatrice stands alone on it’s own merit. Do we really need to travel forward in time 100 years to find the skeleton? Could we not have just reached that point through the narrative itself? It feels like Maine is trying to achieve what Kate Morton seems to do more easily. Really this tale has it all, romance, setting, a hidden past, but somehow it just doesn’t quite take you there.
Maine is a very good writer, so I’m not for a second saying that I wouldn’t want to read another of her books, but I would like to see her venture away from what feels like a modern day formula.