Walter MacMillan is bewitched by the clever, glamorous Jean Thompson and can’t believe his luck when she agrees to marry him. Neither can she, for Walter represents a steady and loving man who can perhaps quiet the demons inside her. Yet their home on remote Loch Doon soon becomes a prison for Jean and neither a young family nor Walter’s care can seem to save her.
Many years later, Walter is with his adult children and adored grandchildren on the shores of Loch Doon where the family has been holidaying for two generations. But the shadows of the past stretch over them and will turn all their lives upside down on one fateful weekend.
The House by the Loch is the story of a family in all its loving complexity and the way it can, and must, remake itself endlessly in order to make peace with the past.
I received a copy of this book from John Murray Press – Two Roads via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Walter witnesses a tragedy as a young boy at the side of the loch, close to his home. It haunts him, throughout his life, even though he could do nothing to stop it. Years later, his family gather at the loch, and once again it is the scene of a tragic event, this time personal, and he wonders if it is his fault and if his family will ever recover.
The setting is beautiful, yet unforgiving, an addiction for Walter, that threatens everything he holds dear.
A multi-generational story, Walter recalls his younger days, his marriage to Jean and their lives at the loch. Addiction and mental health issues irrevocably alter the family, and their effects resonate across the generations. The story’s ethos is predominately sad, but at its conclusion, there is a reckoning, a chance for redemption and a way forward for those left.
The characters are flawed, and therefore believable. Some are self-destructive, but whether the root cause is from nature or nurture, or both is part of what this story explores. The plot is complex, hiding its secrets until the end, The story is engaging and draws you into the family, how they interact and what it means to keep a family together.
Forgiveness, justice and understanding are all important themes. The emotional journey, the characters travel is poignant and often filled with a sense of hopelessness. Ultimately, it is the courage, love and tenacity of the family members, that gets them through the darkness, to survive and make the family stronger.