First Sentence: Joanne Ross remembered the morning she’d first encountered the name Alice Ramsay.
Newspaper journalist Joanne Ross comes across the story of a woman who’d recently been tried for witchcraft in a small Scottish town, the first since 1728. Intrigued the contacts the young reporter who wrote the story there, Joanne makes the trip north. Alice Ramsey is less than hospitable, but Joanne finds herself drawn to the woman, and so is shocked to soon learn Alice is dead and pronounced a suicide. Not believing it, Joanne investigates but runs into more layers, and threats, than she could have imagined.
Scott starts off by creating an evocative sense of place with both the description and the language—“March was still winter in these parts—with snow on the hills, and the burns and rivers veins of rolling liquid peat, it was beyond dreary, it was dreich.” While Scottish words and phrases are a bit of a challenge for an American reader, their meaning is easily understood by the context and add context to the story. However, just so you know, dreich is a combination of dull, overcast, drizzly, cold, misty and miserable weather. At least four of the above adjectives must apply before the weather is truly dreich. But nothing solidifies the knowledge that we are not in the U.S., than the description of a house—“Not that it was old, only a hundred years or so since it was built...”
While the book does not include a prologue, it is important to read the passage at the beginning of each chapter as they allow us to know a bit about Alice, and confirm there is more to the events than meet the eye.
It’s an interesting group of characters that Scott has created; Joanna who wants to progress as a writer; her husband, the publisher of the local paper; Colum MacKenzie, the young constable completely cowed by his mother; and his much more independent fiancée. Most fascinating of all, however, is Alice Ramsey, even though she is only physically present in the story for small periods. In many ways, she fits the classic definition of a wise woman, or a crone; attuned to nature and knowledgeable as to the purpose of herbs; and having experienced enough in life to pass wisdom on to others—“The more you search for your place in the world, the more elusive it becomes,” She stood. “My advice is, be content with the little things, and you will make progress.” “We women are always putting off our dreams.” “Just listen to the wind, is my advice.”
Scott conveys emotion very well. You feel Joanna’s frustration at allowing herself to be used and, thus, committing an act of betrayal violating her own principal of “Do as you would be done by.” She also writes very good dialogue, with occasional humor—“But I have to warn you, this is the last time I buy you lemonade. Any self-respecting writer knows it’s the hard stuff you need to be a novelist, ladies included.”
The injection of new players, partway through, considerably and significantly alters the sense of the story and leads a plot twist that is more emotional than shocking. The final revelation, is a wonderful “ah-ha!” moment.
“A Kind of Grief” is a book with a long simmer that takes time to reach its boil, but it is a very compelling pot to watch along the way.
A KIND OF GRIEF (Unl. Invest/Journalist-Joanne Ross-Scotland–beginning of 1960) – G+
Scott, A.D. – 6th in series
Atria Books – October 2015