The start of The Watch House by Bernie McGill is wonderfully dark and bleak. It caught my interest immediately. Set mainly in 1898 & 1899 on Rathlin island in Ireland I found this book rather special. After the dark start the narrative goes back a year and we begin to learn about Nuala Byrne’s life. The story weaves the fact that Marconi used the island to test his wireless transmission in Morse from there with Nuala’s. Nuala’s family left Ireland for the new world and she is to join them later. However that falls through and she is left with few choices. When she has a proposal of marriage from “The Tailor” of the island she decides to accept.
I did find this quite a slow burn book to start with. The writing has a poetic lilt to it and the language and tone is unquestionably Irish and from an earlier time. There is quite a lot of descriptive writing here; it is great for giving a fullness to the setting and the people but maybe slows things down more than I would have really liked. It is not a book to be read fast nor can it be; it is one to savour. Once I understood that I settled back to enjoy the tale.
Now married Nuala spends some time at the Watch House where the test transmissions are taking place. She begins to understand something of the far wider world. Her character is one of the better characters I’ve read in quite some time. I was completely engaged with her and her story. Her life and feelings became clear to me and I understood and empathised. The ending of this book was fine for me – something I say quite rarely. All in all this is a powerful and moving story. I found it deeply satisfying as a read in some way I find hard to explain.
Note – I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review