Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 2, 2016

The House Between Tides, by Sarah Maine

The House Between TidesThe House Between Tides is undemanding light fiction, and therefore just the right choice for me at the moment.

It’s one of those set-in-two-time-frames novels, shifting back and forth between the pre-war period at the turn of the twentieth century and the recent past.  There are two central female characters: Hetty Deveraux who runs away from a dubious relationship to inspect her inheritance – a crumbling mansion in the Hebrides, and Beatrice Blake, married to the artist Theo Blake, and none too certain about whether that was a good idea.  Yes, #NoSurprises both of these women meet up with ruggedly handsome fellows who share their values.  (This is the symbolism of the rear-view woman on the cover, head looking in one direction and body facing the other way.  We have all learned to recognise this cue by now, eh?)

The Dark Secret makes its appearance promptly: there’s a body under the floorboards in the derelict mansion.  And a series of unrelated events delays the forensics for a good long while to keep the reader guessing about the gender of the murder victim.  Meanwhile the tension builds in both time periods as Beatrice finds that her husband (who is supposed to be painting masterpieces) is not only shooting rare birds for his collection but also resisting appeals to restore land to its rightful C19th tenant-farmers, while Hetty finds herself being steamrollered by her would-be lover Giles who wants to ignore the wishes of the local community and the environmental values and develop the mansion into a luxury hotel.

None of this is particularly original, but The House Between Tides works quite well because of the stunning landscape combining effectively with Gothic elements (the crumbling mansion and a gloomy rented cottage; perilous storms, fogs to get lost in and ocean tides to cut characters off from the mainland; and of course suspicious-seeming characters).    Readers at Goodreads mention similarities to Kate Morton’s novels, but I don’t agree that it bears any but the most superficial resemblance to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.  I could not put Rebecca down, and it’s a novel that bears re-reading over and over again even when you know how the plot resolves.  While I quite enjoyed The House Between Tides, it’s not in that league.  And fair enough too: Rebecca was Daphne du Maurier’s fifth novel while this one is Sarah Maine’s first, and while it’s a perfectly respectable first novel, she hasn’t quite succeeded with the characterisation of Beatrice and Hetty…

Like Beatrice and Hetty, the unnamed narrator of Rebecca, as we all know, lacks confidence in herself.  She lets herself be bullied by Mrs Danvers and she believes that as a second wife she is a poor replacement for the drop-dead gorgeous Rebecca.  She has no one to confide in and she doesn’t unburden herself to Maxim because she thinks he’s part of the problem.  Rebecca’s unnamed narrator is not an easy character to render successfully without readers damning her as a doormat but Daphne du Maurier pulls it off in a way that’s not quite so easy with contemporary characters.  Feisty young female readers don’t have much patience with 21st century women who don’t stand up for themselves.  Maine’s Beatrice and Hetty both lack agency and both of them let male characters run the whole show.

Despite this weakness, The House Between Tides is good entertainment and I quite enjoyed it.

Author: Sarah Maine
Title: The House Between Tides
Publisher: Allen and Unwin, 2016
ISBN: 9781760291402
Review copy courtesy of Allen and Unwin

Available from Fishpond:The House Between Tides


Responses

  1. I too finished this recently, Lisa, and couldn’t agree more with all your comments. It was the light reading I wanted and needed last week, and it kept me wanting to read on until the last page. I thought I’d cracked the mystery early on but I just couldn’t be sure! The gentle, easy writing and the double time frame seduced me enough to keep me very happy even though I wanted more from those two female characters. I keep thinking how good this would look on the big screen…

    • Oh yes, it would make a lovely film. Perhaps needing a hankie…

  2. “We have all learned to recognise this cue by now, eh?” Well actually No. I’ve spent my whole life missing cues. Though if there’s a spaceship on the cover I can generally pick it for science fiction.

    • *repentant chuckle* I’m sorry, I was just being scornful about the cliché cover design!


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