Reviewed by Simon Ives
This supernatural thriller is set on the west coast of Mainland Shetland and could not be envisaged anywhere else. The evocative descriptive language is a constant reminder of the location; the smell of peat, the sea mists, the dialect of the Shetlanders, the forbidding Isle of Foula, ever-present, looming in the distance.
Into this world comes ‘the young man’, Innes Pitmedden, looking to complete a PhD in Folklore at Aberdeen University. He arrives on the island to collect folk tales or, more precisely, to learn the true ending of one in particular. Living in a crofter’s cottage he endears himself to the locals and gathers many of their stories, but not the one he seeks.
As he carries out his research, Innes falls in with lovers May and Laurie, who tease him about his interest in ‘trows’, as they are known on the island. Elsewhere these fae people are known as fairies or trolls, creatures of the supernatural.
All the while he is watched by the unnamed narrator. Whether he is on the beach, walking on the moors or alone in his bedroom, this omnipresent observer is there with him. He has the ability to enter his dreams and often does so. Tricks are played on the young man as his packed lunch is replaced by wool and driftwood. Then certain objects begin to appear in his room, while he is constantly drawn towards the story with no ending.
The narrator is clearly not human and may well be one of the mysterious trows, but we never know for certain. He certainly appears long-lived and is repulsed by some Christian imagery and fears Innes’ Buddhist incense which burns during his periods of meditation.
This is a haunting story, one which fills the reader with the very essence of the Shetlands and leaves them thinking at the end; so what just happened here? Full marks go to Grydehoj for this masterful debut novel, successfully weaving strands of Celtic mythology with Buddhism and something else entirely.