Anonymous viciously murdered women are strewn throughout Evie Wyld’s The Bass Rock. The characters are unnamed as they would be in a fairy tale; the girl, the master, the footman…
“It’s just a feeling I have all the time that I’m walking in and out of these deaths and I should at least notice. I should notice because I’m not dead yet, and there’s no difference between these women and me, or you or your mother or the lady in the tea shop. We’re just breezing in and out of the death zone. Wading through the dead.”Evie Wyld, The Bass Rock
Coincidently, I read The Bass Rock straight after Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConoghy. Both books are set in Scotland and use wolves as an analogy for male violence. But, while I found McConoghy’s book preachy and didactic, Wyld’s is subtle and relatable. It is not about the ‘message’ is about the characters and their stories.
I adore this book. I have listened to it four times. It deserves re-reading. The book is like lace, the pieces held together with gossamer threads, some so thin they are only noticed on the fourth read – that the song Maggie listens to on her headphones, the song the man sings as he batters a woman with a golf club, and the song Sarah sings while she bathes in the river are the same. The spaces between the lacework are the secrets, the hidden crimes, and the shame that is not uttered. The pattern of them is understood when the creation is held aloft—a pattern of centuries of violence against women and children.
And then, Maggie says “I trust a man who golfs less than a man who pays for sex.” And I wonder what she knows about the man, his golf club, and his victim.
Ah, but who are these characters I speak of? Each character is revealed slowly, sometimes through another character, fragile threads of trauma and experiences that haunt them. I mean literally, a ghost in the house.
Three women are living parallel and yet intertwined lives; Viviane returns to her mother’s childhood home to sort through Ruth’s belongings, Ruth post-war and newly married and caring for her stepsons, and the elusive Sarah on the run in the forest, accused of being a witch.
At the end of the novel, Viviane goes into the wood where Ruth died and calls out and her voice echoes three times. I feel they are the echoes from the past, the most distant Sarah, saved by Joseph’s father from being burned as a witch, collecting hare’s teeth into a little box. From Joseph’s point of view, we witness them lost in the forest, searching for the sea and safety, hungry and cold. And Ruth, who is gaslighted and eventually abandoned by her fickle and war-damaged husband. She is in a photo with her siblings, holding that same hare’s teeth box. Later the box is gifted to Viviane. It holds no meaning for her. Echoes fade from their source but they have substance.
We talked and talked about this book at our book club meeting. The mysteries! The layers! We asked ourselves are we a wolf or a fox, what is the difference? We asked the men unlucky enough to walk into the room at the end of the meeting. Are you a wolf or a fox?
It is not just the women who are victims of predators, the vulnerable include children. The creepiest of the men is the Welsh priest and the creepiest of echoes the actual tickling.
But despite the violence, this is a book of survival and the self-professed witch Maggie is my favourite character. Her voice is like poetry.
“I do not fucking taste like peaches…I taste of soil and salt and the mutherfucking ocean. The fucking depths of the darkest parts of the ocean with the oil slicks and the scaled fish and the mutherfucking sea scorpions. That’s what I taste of. And sometimes, beetroot.”Evie Wyld, The Bass Rock
There are good men in this book too, and sisterhood, sometimes with good advice and sometimes with advice from the times.
“Darling Puss. Darling Puss, men just are, that’s the truth of it. They are made differently, they want different things. And in order to be able to enjoy your life there are certain things that one has to accept. It’s not being deluded, I won’t have that – it’s seeing things for what they really are, and buggering on until eventually the penny drops and you find yourself living a very fruitful life partly with them but partly with yourself. And the great thing is, they almost always die first.Evie Wyld, The Bass Rock
Obviously, I recommend this book. It won the Stella Prize in 2021 and I think it will be a keeper. While you are at it, check out All the Birds, Singing. Also structurally very interesting. A character and a structure covering her tracks.
The Pocket Bookclub raged against a book of literary cocktails that only included quotes from men. We embarked on a cunttail project, inventing a cunttail for every book we read in 2022. We made a literary cunttail book! What’s wrong with the word cunt? Nothing
Literary Cunttails 2022 is hand-drawn by Miriama and includes every recipe. Get a free copy.