Wow! What a book! Ms Byrne has produced a fine work of historical fiction, a kind of literary romance, underscored with mystery and a touch of terror. Its themes are domestic violence, the ravages of war and the role of society and its view of women in abusive marriages. These themes are treated with compassion and insight, and are never overdone.
The Broken Horizon is a moving portrayal of woman's life on a small island off the coast of Scotland early last century. It chronicles her marriage to a man who beats her and his disappearance on the night that Charlie, who cares deeply for her, finds her unconscious in the garden of her cottage. Chrissie thinks her husband Jack is dead, and she thinks she killed him. There is, after all, a body in the byre, in the shallow grave Jack meant for Charlie. But the book begins with her receiving a letter from Jack, saying that he is coming home. This sets the pall of mystery over the first two parts of the book. If Jack is alive, then where is he and who is the body in the barn?
We find some of the answers at the end of part two, but the tension doesn't break with the mystery, because Jack is indeed back, and now we wonder whether he will kill Chrissie and the children. The tension mounts with Jack's anger and the book races to a dramatic conclusion with a brief an unexpected metaphysical twist. Given the circumstances the book left our characters in, the epilogue was everything I hoped it would be. Healing can come from the most unexpected quarters.
Technically, I could not fault this book. The characters are very real, suited to their time period, well-fleshed and developed over time. I felt for Chrissie from the beginning, and even for her poor tormented husband. The plot is excellent, as is the pacing and dialogue, and the prose is excellent.
This is a brilliant book, but not the kind I actually enjoy, owing to my tendency to over identify with the characters and suffer their pain too acutely for comfort. There is a lot of fear and emotional pain in this story, including that of a serviceman returned from the First World War, and reading about it, especially when it is as sensitively written as this, tends to break my heart. It's because real people suffer these very same things and I feel for them. If you wonder why I give it 5 stars then, it's because it is quite simply an excellent book and, if you like books that make you feel deeply, then this is for you
Having read Follow the Dove by the same author, I couldn't wait to get started on the sequel. I already knew the characters, and had eagerly awaited this book to follow on reading about their lives. I'm very much looking forward to the third in the trilogy, which I'm sure will be just as enthralling. Anyone who is a fan of the late Maeve Binchy will certainly enjoy these books.
I usually read crime and not family saga type books but I couldn't put this down and read it over two days. You will care about the characters, and totally visualise the setting. It will make you laugh and make you cry. It has its scary moment too. Go to the island of Raumsey, explore, enjoy. You won't want to leave.
I'm looking forward to Catherine's third book in the trilogy.
Jean McLennan (author)