Culture Street

By Sophia Whitfield

A horrific discovery in a house by the sea is the starting point for this haunting debut from Elisabeth Gifford.

In 1992 Ruth and Michael buy the dilapidated house by the sea with a vision to fix it up and run it as a Guest House. But under their house they make the early bleak discovery of a baby’s bones with mermaid features which clouds their plans.

Set on the Hebridean Island of Harris, Gifford’s descriptive detail of the land and the sea surrounding the house gives the narrative a haunting backdrop.

Flitting between myth and reality, Secrets of the Sea House spans the generations as Ruth delves into the past to unearth the mystery of her discovery. Gifford takes us back to Scotland in 1860 where Reverend Alexander Ferguson, newly ordained, begins his tenure at the white house on the edge of the dunes. He becomes fascinated with the sea and its history, deeply immersed in legend and myth.

Gifford introduces a bevy of interesting characters from 1860 including Moira, the servant with a chequered past and the more privileged Katriona Marstone who holds a dark secret.

Ruth’s own past has troubled her throughout her adult life. Solving the mystery discovered in her own home is paramount in Ruth’s mind to finding her own peace. Reading Alexander Ferguson’s diaries give her the link she needs to the past.

Gifford’s sweeping tale of the sea is strengthened by its dual timelines. It has elements of historical fiction that fans of sea mythology will enjoy. The sense of time and place is staggering as Gifford takes the reader from 1992 back to 1860. Well researched and beautifully told.

 

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