Sarah Maine’s THE HOUSE BETWEEN THE TIDES is typical chick-lit. It’s commercial women’s fiction with a mysterious family saga at its core. The novel alternates between two generations of the same families—one in the 1890s the other in 2010. In the opening chapters, Harriet Deveraux travels to Bhalla Island to assess her inherited estate for renovation into a secluded inn—an attempt to give her life meaning and fill the void left by the death of her parents and grandmother. Not only does she find that locals plan to rally against her business plans, seeing it as yet another upheaval and claim to the land that should be theirs, but she also finds that the house may be beyond the point of repair. Even more disturbing, however, is the skeleton that seems to have been buried beneath the floorboards of the conservatory.
While Harriet attempts to piece together the mystery of her family’s past, the reader gets a first-hand account of what really happened from Theo and Beatrice Blake in the 1890s and early 1900s, as Maine seamlessly passes from one character’s perspective to another’s. Theo and Beatrice take residence in Bhalla Estate when Theo finds his creativity as a painter stunted and longs to return to the place where he first explored this passion. However, the reader soon learns that that passion was closely intertwined with another—his love for Màili Cameron, a native islander from his youth. While the island inspires Theo, it also reminds him of his first love, further impeding his artistry. And what is more, the reader learns that Màili’s son, Cameron Forbes is actually Theo’s love-child—a secret Theo struggles with while attempting to befriend the liberal-leaning local.
To further complicate matters, Beatrice comes to believe that Cameron’s “obligation” to Theo and their frequent interactions may be sexually charged, and she worries about the future of her marriage if Cameron returns to Edinburgh with them. Despite her anxiety, Beatrice finds a friend and teacher in Cameron as he shows her the many hardships of the locals, who were uprooted in the building of Bhalla Estate. These conversations transform into a friendship, which sparks what is at first an unintentional courtship that ends in their planning to run away together.
Theo soon learns of his wife’s affair, and in a violent outburst tells Cameron his true parentage and the two engage in as struggle leaving Cameron dead. Theo is never held accountable for this murder since Cameron had arranged his voyage for Canada the following day. Instead, Theo’s grief finally overcomes him, and he commits suicide several years later after being abandoned by Beatrice, who had become pregnant by Cameron.
The unmistakable parallels between Harriet and Beatrice’s lives continue to align as the truth unfolds. Harriet discovers this tangled past by uncovering a series of letters and putting the pieces together as the DNA results of the skeleton are shown to be Cameron Forbes–a distant relative to James Cameron, with whom she has become romantically involved. These letters, however also reveal that Harriet’s grandmother had intended to return the land to the locals, an arrangement Harriet has come to find suitable, which leaves both Harriet and James with answers about their families’ past and a resolution to the problems posed by the deteriorating estate.
I think it may be useful to the reader if there is a family tree mapped out at the beginning of the novel. There are also a few moments that could be recreated in a more realistic way. Harriet’s reaction to the skeleton and Theo’s musings about Cameron on his first morning in Bhalla are two such instances. The author’s voice could be strengthened by switching to a more active voice, as she overuses the verb “had” throughout the novel.
Some comparable titles are The Legacy by Katherine Webb and the Bruno, Chief Of Police detective series by Martin Walker.