In an attempt to leave her home, her family, her friends and all she’s ever known behind, Rose Leonard wakes up to the sounds of the sea and wind on the small, desolate Scottish isle of North Uist. Perhaps getting this far away is the only way she can stay sane, stay healthy, and focus on her need to create with minimal medication. She isn’t lonely yet; in fact she has already befriended the watchful and caring neighboring family. Shona McAskill, her congenial drinking husband Donald and her brood of “bairns” are not the type she worries about. It’s love of a less platonic kind that she’s vowed to steer clear from, and being well into her forties Rose believes it’s for the best. Shona’s younger, dark and blue-eyed brother Calum with his pseudo-intellectual ways and climber’s body couldn’t change that, could he? As their friendship begins to grow and her estranged daughter Megan arrives for an extended visit Rose quickly finds that her plan for putting her troubled past behind her may not be so infallible after all.
How to describe this beautiful, haunting book – which satisfied everything I thought I needed and more. A book which enveloped me for two days until I’d read its last page. For one I found its blend of atmospheric setting and lyrical, poetic writing completely intoxicating and different than anything I’ve read. The contrastingly barren and rocky landscape of Uist, Skye, and the tiny remote islands of western Scotland seem to be something I experienced without ever being there. Similarly while reading Emotional Geology I felt like I was occupying a part of Rose’s bipolar mind. There’s more to Calum than meets the eye and watching them bond for life over her textile art and his despairing poetry is thrilling. Beyond the lush writing I was perfectly content for my reading experience to solely revolve around these two complex and damaged characters. Although the exploration of weighty issues such as mental illness, grief, regret, heartache, and betrayal are prominent, humor and sweet exchanges sprinkled throughout the story keep you from drowning in them. The alternating first and third person between real-time and flashback was also smart as it maintained a constant suspense as well as keeping the dark and light balanced. Beyond the relationships and psychological battles some of my favorite scenes involved Shona’s children or Calum’s students. One that stands out is the time Calum asks his students to explain the reasons behind their daily 5-10 minute free writes to Rose:
“…And why do we engage in this exhausting activity? Alex?
“It’s a warm-up, sir. It develops our writing muscles.”
“Indeed it does. And it’s a great way of tapping into the subconscious where all your best ideas live. You get down to the bare bones of your thoughts and you can write without all the usual inhibitions. What happens to these timed writings? Ken?”
“Explain, Kenny, for our visitor’s benefit. Do we mark them?”
“No, sir, because they’re private. We can keep them or we can bin them.”
“But sometimes we use them, Miss,” Mairi pipes up again, her face shining. “We use them for poems and stories. They’re our raw material.”
Isn’t that incredibly sweet? This is one of several passages that made my face light up. Then there are the times when Rose waxes poetic, and there’s an entire poem to soak up. Or when her artist side is ignited by a spark from humanity or nature and we become part of the astounding and unpredictable creative process. It’s exhilarating and I loved this aspect of a book ultimately about the recesses of the mind. But in the end it all comes down to Rose and Calum and wanting very badly for them to find happiness you can’t help but fall in love with them too. Overall Emotional Geology is a deeply moving, introspective novel about nature, art, writing, living and love that will stick with you for a long time. Now if there was some way to help Linda Gillard get it picked up by a U.S. publisher I would be more than happy to help.