The Wind From The Hills
The inside flap of The Wind from the Hills tells us that it continues the story of “love, greed and betrayal” that began with The Island Wife (the author’s previous book). Well, I got the greed and betrayal part, but love? This book is a kind of anti-romance. In fact, as far as I could see, the author believes that a story is far more interesting if none of the characters are allowed to marry the person with whom he or she falls in love. If you, like me, are confused as to why this book was sent to a romance novel web site, all I can say is that maybe this is what some people think love is. Poor souls.
The Wind from the Hills is the story of two sisters who live on Mull Island, off the Scottish coast. One sister, Biddy, is the wealthy widow of a large estate owner. The other sister, Innis, is the wife of one of the sheepherders who works on the estate. Michael, Innis’s husband, was Biddy’s first lover, and it is obvious to the reader that he is a bitter, insecure and verbally abusive man, who is sexually obsessed with his sister-in-law. This is one of those books where the author doesn’t bother with a plot. Instead we meet a series of characters, each of whom has his or her own special desires and problems. The author puts them all together and sees what happens. Unfortunately, these characters sometimes exhibit personalities and behaviors that make little sense. Biddy is a good example.
Biddy, who is turning thirty, is seeking a man to father her children. She doesn’t want to get stuck with a husband and no baby, so she sleeps with eligible bachelors, trying to get pregnant. Biddy promises each of these men that, should she get pregnant, she will marry him. The latest of the bachelors in question is the hapless but “vigorous” Ian. Ian falls in love with Biddy but, as with all the others, she does not get pregnant. She also doesn’t fall in love. Biddy is a “cold fish.” If this were a romance novel, some wonderful man would turn up and thaw her out. Unfortunately for Biddy she is stuck in literary fiction, doomed to behave in a way that no real woman would.
In the meantime Innis is having her problems with Michael. Michael spends a lot of time ranting about what a whore his sister-in-law is. Innis does her best to ignore him and to pretend to herself that she cannot see the meaning of his hostility. As this is going on she becomes friends with the local widower school teacher and falls chastely in love with him. Innis is a practicing Catholic and will not consider a divorce so the whole situation is pretty sad.
If The Wind from the Hills were only about Biddy, Innis and a few supporting players, it would probably be an average book. What pulls it out of average and into deadly is that there are at least ten other people whose stories are almost as important. We learn all about Biddy’s servants, Innis’s and Biddy’s parents and their terrible marriage, their wealthy grandfather, the caretaker for the grandfather, the vicar, the mentally ill aunt, the brilliant son of the aunt, and Innis’s juvenile delinquent son. You name it – we hear about it. Just keeping track of all these people gave me a headache.
Part of the point of this story seems to be to contrast the lives of two sisters. Innis is the loving, self-sacrificing woman who got everything a woman is supposed to want, only to discover that the man that she married is a weak, horrible person. Innis is lovable. The vicar loved her as a girl and the gentle schoolteacher loves her now. By contrast, Biddy is the woman that men desire but do not love. She has money, position and friends. In fact she has everything but the baby she craves. After reading about her for a few hundred pages I didn’t feel too sorry for her. Biddy makes no emotional sacrifices so it’s not terribly surprising that she is alone. The one person in the book who touched me was her lover, Ian, a man who thought he was courting her for money but accidentally fell in love.
This book ends with heartbreak, guilt, and hopelessness. As this is the second in a trilogy, it’s possible everything might be resolved more happily in the third book. But given the depressing flavor of The Wind from the Hills, I’d be surprised if things improve for Biddy and Innis. By the end of the book I didn’t much care.