REVIEW: The Island Cottage by Jane Lovering
When Brid Harcus is sent to the Orkney Islands, in the far reaches of Scotland, she has high hopes for her trip being short, straightforward and lucrative.
Her mother has inherited a cottage from her Great Aunt Jennet which has been unlived in and unloved for decades, and the time has come to make it habitable and saleable. Easy, right?
But Midness Cottage has other ideas. For one thing it’s rather more ‘fixer upper’ than Country Living, with a resident goose and her goslings who have made themselves at home. And Brid definitely hadn’t planned for the strongly-held local belief that the cottage is meant to be the home of the Orkney Witch, and whomever lives in it must fulfil this role. Not the best message for the estate agent brochure and of course Brid doesn’t believe in magic, let alone have healing powers.
But Orkney does have healing powers. Its beauty and peace are enchanting, its people welcoming, and Brid’s handsome new friend Magnus is rather charming too. When her life back in York starts calling her home, will Brid sell up and ship out? Or did the last Orkney Witch cast a spell and leave a legacy of love if only Brid believed in magic…
Dear Ms. Lovering,
Bravo/a to whoever did this cover. There’s Brid’s (pronounced Breed) cottage, Brid, and Cushie and her three goslings. Of course they must be there as Cushie, at least, isn’t just a plot goosie but is an integral part of the story. But is she Brid’s familiar? Hmmm, maybe.
Since Orcadian accents, scenery, points of interest, and houses are mentioned so often, I had to go looking online to “see” this new world that Brid has been sent to in order to sell the loch cottage that has been in the family for generations. Great-Aunt Jennet was the local witch but after Brid finds a handwritten book of “practical information” that had been left in the cottage, Brid is convinced that all Jennet probably did was listen to people and offer common sense. There is no such thing as a real witch, right?
The cottage isn’t that comfortable, the wind here almost never ceases, the bathroom is laughable, the kitchen is tiny, and there’s a goose in the larder. Plus Brid needs the proceeds from the sale in order to help fund a mortgage on some tiny broom closet in York where she lives, her parents (who need her) live, and her job (which needs her) is located. But as she stays longer and longer, things keep happening. People seek out her witch skills and then later tell her that she helped them with whatever problem that brought them to her. Incidents occur when Brid speaks of going home or has her plans made to do so. Everyday events or is Brid really the witch and Jennet determined to keep her in Orkney?
Given where you usually set your books, I would have been surprised if York wasn’t somehow in the story but this trip to Orkney made by a woman from Yorkshire counts. It’s understandable that Brid’s mother doesn’t tell her daughter everything about the cottage before sending her off with visions of something fit for “Country Life” dancing in Brid’s head. It’ll be easy, mom said. The sale will be quick and you can use all the profits for a place of your own. Ha! At least the roof is in good shape. But Brid is nothing if not determined and with handsome Magnus’s help with a paintbrush (though he does question if this isn’t just making it look like a “pig in a wig”), it’s not looking too bad although nothing near as good as the cottages for sale that Brid has seen on local estate agent’s office boards.
At first I wasn’t sure about the idea of Brid being a witch but then what she does is mainly what Jennet writes about which is listening to people and letting them feel they’ve been heard. Common sense approaches to their concerns are easy for Brid to do and the Orcadians are definitely prepared to believe in her skills. The other things can be explained. Well, perhaps in isolated instances though the large number might be hard to hand wave away. This was fun to see worked into the story and also fun to watch the reactions of various characters.
‘We’ve been waiting a long time for the new witch,’ he said, and his voice was strangely urgent. ‘So we’re glad you’re here. Even if you are English,’ he finished, curling his lip over the word as though it was synonymous with ‘feeble minded and ineffectual’.
Orkney is almost another character in the book and I loved this. So much is discussed and shown but it’s done with love and a need to know instead of being a travelog plunked down to show research. Poor Brid initially has a lot of ideas about the place that will need a rethink.
My cultural misapprehensions were not her fault. ‘My mother didn’t really prepare me very well, it’s a short-notice trip.’ I felt safe confessing this much.
‘We thought it might be.’ She pushed a steaming mug towards me. ‘Here. Cup of tea and a biscuit. We’ve moved on a bit past the spring water and oatcakes era now.’
So, she knew exactly what I’d been thinking about Orkney.
He stuck both hands in the pockets of the dungaree overalls. ‘The tourists expect a bit of the old woo,’ he said mildly. ‘We have to be a bit unearthly out here, otherwise they all up and head back to Edinburgh or Stirling where there’s Marriott hotels and pipers and people say “och, aye” on purpose.’
Brid does get a bit of her own back though.
‘So you’re a Gaelic lass, through and through then.’ Magnus seemed to find this amusing for some reason.
‘I suppose so.’
‘But you’re an accountant? In Yorkshire?’
I pursed my lips at him. ‘All the sword dancing and leprechaun-wrangling jobs were taken. It was accountancy or the bra department in Marks and Spencer.’
Brid has her reasons for not wanting to stay in Orkney. She’s got a good job, is respected for her knowledge (love a heroine’s competence), helps her parents a lot, and yes dammit, she doesn’t mind letting the people who made fun of her height and weird liking for numbers know that she’s made something of herself. I loved most of the romance between Brid and Magnus —
‘So there’s no room for some wild nights of fun, throwing caution to the wind and letting the future take care of itself?’ He raised that eyebrow again.
‘You can’t. Not if you have tax bills to sort out, and parents who would otherwise sit silently in front of The Chase,’ I said, trying to be stern, but his grin was broadening and it was infectious.
‘How about a couple of slightly crazy afternoons, with caution put outside on the step and the future carefully seated in the corner with a packet of biscuits and a jigsaw?’
I couldn’t help it, I laughed.
— (yay, that a potential Other Woman was discounted by Magnus from the get-go) but there was one bit that I felt wasn’t needed. There were enough other issues that might have kept the two apart as Magnus had his reasons for why he really needed to stay in Orkney but it’s clear that they do love each other.
He was grinning at me, using his toast to sandwich some bacon, and I realised with a start that this was the first man who had ever cooked for me. The first man ever to give up his bed for me without making some lecherous remark or attempt to climb in alongside me. The first man, in short, to ever treat me like a real person, rather than a woman who existed simply to fill a ‘woman-shaped hole’ in his life.
Also yay that he doesn’t try to guilt Brid into staying because, you know, he’s a man so his reasons are better. When Brid makes her decision, sure Magnus is a part of it, but it’s mainly her choice and for her. It’s strange though that once she decides, everybody already seems to know it would happen and that they’d finally have a witch again. B+