Saturday, April 14, 2012

Sophia's Secret by Susanna Kearsley

Canadian Historical fiction author, Carrie Mclelland plans to write her latest work around Nathaniel Hooke, who instigated a little know Jacobite uprising that went before both the ‘15’ and the ‘45’ – in 1708 in fact which as her character Graham Keith says ‘didn’t even make it to the history books’.

Carrie begins her research in St Germaine en Laye, the castle loaned by the French King Louis XIV to the exiled Stuart kings and where they and their supporters congregated to plot and scheme to regain James II’s throne.

She travels to Scotland to visit her agent and by chance or circumstance, she is drawn to the ruins of Slains Castle, and realises this is where the story of the 1708 rebellion really begins. Not only that, but her own Ancestor, Sophia Paterson was also at Slains at the same time.  Carrie rents a cottage from Jimmy Keith and her research takes a mysterious turn, in that facts, feelings and impressions she imagines or discovers, like the layout of the castle,  are startlingly close to the truth. Is something, or someone guiding her subconscious to make these connections with her story?

Thrown into the mix are two other men, Jimmy’s sons Graham and Stuart, both of whom affect her in entirely different ways. One is handsome, outgoing and available, while the other is fascinating, enigmatic and sends Carrie’s pulse racing.

The story Carrie planned to write unfolds in a way she cannot explain and more and more Sophia Paterson raises her head, and her memory becoming the narrator of her book.

Ms Kearsley’s characters are exceptionally well drawn, and the historic ones are very different to those in the modern day, so it’s easy for the reader to jump the centuries and live in Sophia’s world as well as Carrie’s – and at times forget the other exists!

What I especially liked, was the way Ms Kearsley describes the process of writing a book, from the detailed notes and the ‘writer’s trance’  that intrudes at the most inconvenient times so those around us think we are uninterested in them, to the a writer's 'lost time' which we embrace, and in fact search for, to the ‘colouring in of maps’.

This story is reminiscent of Barbara Erskine’s Lady of Hay, the book which launched my fascination with reading, and writing historical fiction. I am no Jacobite, but I have always wondered how different English history would be had Queen Anne made her half brother her heir. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and will certainly seek out more of Ms Kearsley’s work.

'Sophia's Secret' was also released under the title 'The Winter Sea'