To forty-something divorcee Fay McGillivray, people said it would get better, and in some senses, it has. Divorcing Magnus, her army veteran husband, allowed her to move full-time into their Glasgow apartment and focus on her art. Now showing and selling her textile pieces on a regular basis, Fay couldn’t be a more successful artist. But going on six years from their split and other men later, why does she still feel so incomplete? With Nina, Magnus’ girlfriend, living with him at Tullibardine Tower, he seems to have moved on. That their daughter Emily, whom Fay hasn’t lived with since the divorce, is getting married only complicates things further, particularly when it looks like Magnus will follow suit. How did Fay’s big life-changing decision go from best to worst and what will she do about it?
I was stoked when I read the announcement on Linda Gillard’s facebook that Untying the Knot would be released as an ebook in September. It hadn’t been long since I knew the book even existed and to know that it would be available so soon was a happy surprise. I’ve come to expect much from a Linda Gillard novel – thoughtful, lyrical writing, carefully constructed characters and well-crafted storytelling – as well as a more experienced, older-than-the-norm female protagonist, a heart-pounding romance and an authentic portrayal of mental illness. I also happen to love her titles, which beg to be analyzed. I’m happy to report that Untying the Knot is no exception on either account.
Beyond the vivid and harrowing picture painted of post traumatic stress disorder, I found the divorce premise refreshing. A relationship can’t get much more complex than exs with a wealth of history and memories between them. The knot and stitching analogies add meaning to Fay and Magnus’ relationship that would otherwise be missing. A passage from the unforgettable opening pages:
If I make a mistake in my work or if I change my mind, I can unpick. Undo what I’ve done. I can make good my errors and no one is the wiser. If they looked, even through a magnifying glass, all observers would see would be the tiny holes where my needle had travelled. I can erase even that evidence by scratching carefully at the weave of the linen with my needle, until the holes are no longer visible.
But life isn’t like that.
Mistakes once made are rarely reversible. The holes they leave in the fabric of life aren’t tiny and they can’t be scratched away. You have to live with them as best you can. Work round them. That’s why you have to come to terms with memory. You can’t obliterate the past or eradicate it from the mind, even when, for our own good, memory enfolds us in a blanket of forgetfulness. There are always traces left, marks where time gripped us and left its telltale fingerprint.
What a clear and striking image. These analogies are subtle and unobtrusively made yet powerful in the way they drive home meaning. Such thought-provoking prose is a joy to read. I would spend more time savoring them if not for the way each short chapter concludes with a carefully dropped piece of enlightening information about the characters or the plot that would made it almost impossible not to read on, and faster at that. While I expected a more detailed, logistical resolution between Fay and Magnus Untying the Knot was still a rewarding read full of hard-won relationships. It also happens to have one of my favorite things: a flawless love letter. Sigh. I will be reading that again.