The freedom of a life in the countryside

Set in 1856, a young wife and her doctor husband have left the bustling city of Glasgow behind to live on the banks of Loch Katrine.

While her husband is on hand to medically assist those working on a huge engineering project to bring water to Glasgow, Isabel Aird is drawn towards the freedom of a life in the country.

After trying for years to have a baby, Isabel finds some relief in her new surroundings and an unexpected friend in the mysterious Robert Kirke.

Magnusson was inspired by the mysterious death of the 17th century minister Robert Kirke and the experiences of her own great grandmother.

Magnusson blends folklore with historical realism to create her narrative. Throughout the book, the narrator is Isabel’s loyal and upfront maid Kirsty, who often switches between employee and friend.

We also experience inner monologues of Kirke as he struggles to deal with the sinister task he has been given by the faery, a supernatural force believed to exist in the area. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert make several appearances throughout and I enjoyed the intimate look at their life and relationship.

However, despite some lovely descriptive writing it did take some time for me to settle into this frequent jumping between voices and characters.

The unavoidable comparison between Victoria and Isabel’s experiences with pregnancy served to highlight the unexplained diffi culties many women can face and emphasised Isabel’s losses.

The setting and story signalled a great stage of progress in terms of engineering and a move towards improved health for Scotland’s most populous city.

For women, progress was far behind and the lengths Isabel must go to in order to be taken seriously show this.

In terms of plot, I have to admit I was never fully hooked; the early chapters in particular are a bit of a slog and the bulk of the excitement happens towards the final chapters of the book.

There was a substantial amount of build-up surrounding the character of Robert Kirke and I’m afraid the climax of this fell rather flat.

The Ninth Child, by Sally Magnusson, published by Two Roads, £14.99.

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