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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Hebrides Dark and Light

Hebridean Blackhouse
Authors can provide vividly different views of life in the same setting that are equally convincing. In his Hebridean trilogy, the first two books (The Blackhouse and The Lewis Man) that I have reviewed May sets out a dark and grim life upon the Islands. In her biographical fiction series Lillian Beckwith provides a much lighter portrayal of Hebridean life.

May portrays the Calvinist churches of Lewis as cold cheerless places of worship with the Minister thundering sermons of fire and brimstone upon the parishioners gathered on the pews below the pulpit.

Beckwith attends church at an equally cheerless building but as the “missionary” presiding roars about the devil she sees the congregation intensely amused rather than threatened. All are concentrating on the mints they have brought to suck upon during the service.

They approach Scottish fatalism differently.

For May’s Islanders there is a resigned acceptance of grim fate.

Morag illustrates the cheerful approach of her Islanders when, on advising Beckwith about morning breakfast, she states:

“Half past eight,” Morag agreed; “and if the Lord spares me I’ll have your fire lit by eight then”.

She further explains:

“I’m feelin’ quite well tonight,” replied Morag piously; “but who can tell if the Lord may call any one of us before the morn comes; and if He chooses to call me in the night then I canna’ light your fire in the mornin’, can I?”

May’s Island homes are drafty and uncomfortable unless they have double glazing on windows and doors. For the young Fin the attic room of his aunt’s home that is his bedroom is cold and uninviting.

Hebridean Whitehouse
For Miss Beckwith there is a warm and comfortable bed in her bedroom.

May’s characters have had troubled and bleak lives. Regrets are many as they look back upon their lives.

Beckwith’s Islanders make the best of their lives upon the land. They enjoy life.

Probably the greatest difference is humour.

Laughter is rare in the lives of May’s residents. They are often a stereotype of Scottish dour.

Morag and her neighbours are constantly jibing each other and are a happy people. A funeral procession is marked by Islanders telling stories and jokes.

I appreciate the books were written about 50 years apart but do not see the respective perspectives flowing from the differing time periods. May is just as dark when he looks back 50 – 60 years.

I am sure life is neither as dark as in May’s books nor as light as in Beckwith’s books. I do find it striking how each makes their Hebrides credible.


  1. Bill - What an interesting contrast! In part, I suspect it's because of the effect the authors want to achieve and in that, I agree with you: both have done terrific jobs. It is fascinating how two people could paint such different portraits of the same place.

  2. Margot: Thanks for the comment. Both authors made the setting an important part of their books. I appreciate authors who can connect the location to the plot.

  3. I really am going to have to read both these authors. Thanks Bill for an interesting piece.

    1. Moira: Thanks for the comment. I will be interested in your thoughts if you get a chance to read them especially what the Hebrideans were wearing in the 1950's.