Some books really do just sweep the reader away from her living room to other times and places. The Winter Sea does a convincing job of traveling into the imagination, and it isn’t satisfied with only one destination. This novel offers a two-for-one opportunity by giving us a twenty-first century protagonist and an eighteenth century heroine who haunts her.
Dual storylines involve a novelist named Carrie McClelland who’s gone to a Scottish village to research her latest work, and the story that unsettlingly seems to write itself by sending her trance-like into centuries-old “memories” that she can’t account for. Alone in her rented cottage by the sea, she takes walks to nearby Slains Castle,encounters overwhelming feelings of deja vu, and makes new friends, one who offers a strangely familiar experience of romance. Carrie struggles with the jumble of feelings from past and present as she, and we, are transported to the life of Sophia Paterson, her ancestor and the main character of Carrie’s new novel. Sophia, a young woman who has lost her parents and been displaced to a distant relative’s home, learns there about treason and loyalty, as well as love. Together Sophia, Carrie and the reader ache through a process of growth that’s often keenly painful, but has moments of true beauty.
Kearsley has a quiet voice that seems to reflect Sophia’s innocence and silent suffering. Her modern character, Carrie, is not much older but reflects the maturity of young women’s lives today. Kearsley writes each story with style and a soft elegance that will please romantics who desire emotion without the overt physicality of many love stories. At the same time, it supplies the passion that stories of emotional maturation require. The Winter Sea is a stylish and successful effort at exploring the popular theme of love that never dies.
The novel focuses on both Sophia’s heartbreaking process of growing up and Carrie’s startling epiphanies into her family history and how it relates to her connections with her new friends. As awesome and unbelievable as is the theme we readers are asked to consider, “ancestral memory”, the novel carries off a nearly perfect suspension of disbelief through strength of Sophia’s emotional life and the intellectual shock of Carrie’s experiences.
If you enjoy romantic fiction of the bodice-ripping variety, know that this is not it. But you will very likely relish the love story here, and the adventures in secrecy and rebellion at that are just as much the heart of the novel. It’s all bound together with an air of mystery that will leave you wondering about the nature of memory and reality.