Rise by Karen Campbell

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Rise by Karen Campbell

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: A runaway alights in the middle of nowhere and collides with the lives of those in a remote Scottish village - accidents, ancient history and modern violence coalesce in a tale that draws its primary strength from the characters and the writing. Might take a while but this one should draw you in eventually.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 419 Date: March 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1408857922

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Justine is running for her life. She's had enough of being someone else's property, of being subjected to the kind of love that has seen her tattooed and owned and beaten and rented out to others to earn her keep. So she's taken what isn't hers, but then was never actually his either, and she's packed a bag, waited until he is drunk-enough asleep not to hear her say goodbye to the dog, and has left.

And caught a bus. North or South didn't really matter. Anywhere that's not here was the only thought that mattered. Out. Away.

The bus took her northwards.

And a number of utterly unrelated incidents, minor mishaps, along the road see her get off in the middle of nowhere.

Up the hill from there is Kilmacarra.

Michael was (is) a minister. You don't stop being a minister just because you've quit one parish and not taken on another: but he's not minister of Kilmacarra: though to be fair he might as well be. His father was before him, and his grandfather before that… so when the manse came up for sale (parishes having to be combined these days to survive at all) and he and his wife having problems of their own to run away from, it seemed like a solution. He's come home, but – let's be clear – he is not the minister.

But he might as well be. He's a local councillor, and in this secular age, there's arguably little difference. You still open your life to those around you, still spend it trying to solve their problems, still put your wife and your family second to everyone else. That's how it feels to Hannah.

Hannah is the wife, who had the affair, who caused the beginnings of what is looking very much like a breakdown. Michael's wife. And now Michael is seeing ghosts – or to be more precise one ghost: a ghost that is slowly changing shape, becoming more humanlike with each manifestation, a ghost intent upon mocking his every move.

Hannah is an author and is trying her best to settle into this rural idyll.

Then there's Mhairi – earth mother incarnate and keeper of the local café (naturally) – and the good-looking youth struggling to keep a family farm going up on the hillside.

So far, so twee. However: this is modern Scotland, Scotland in the run up to a referendum that may or may not vote to sever its future from the rest of the United Kingdom, a politicised Scotland. Even in that maelstrom, an out-of-the-way place like Kilmacarra Glen might not have paid much attention but for the Spanish. They're the 'baddies' in the mix, being the owners of the company chosen to set up the local windfarm. Not everyone in Kilmacarra is in favour of renewable energy, especially if it means destroying their glen and to hell with the jobs: what jobs? What kind? How many? And for how long?

This is what Justine crashes into when she stumbles off the bus in the middle of nowhere.

More specifically she stumbles into the lives of Michael and Hannah, and their two children: Euan – victim of a hit and run – and the adorable Ross. I loved Ross to bits. His innocence is a great foil for the stupidity of the adults around him.

Justine isn't going to get away with her theft, but more than that, she's not going to get away with anything she's ever done. She keeps looking over her shoulder, waiting for her former lover to find her.

Secrets and lies: as always at the heart of a good tale, it's all about the secrets and lies: the secrets always being the more powerful: what is not told, rather than what is.

As Michael slowly goes mad, and Hannah tries to figure out what she wants, and Justine just keeps hoping she can stay for a little while longer, everyone protects their secrets, and tries to survive.

It's as simple as that. A bunch of people trying to survive modern life. More than that, a bunch of disparate souls trying to find a home.

This isn't one to draw you into an intricate plot. In essence, very little happens between a lost young soul stumbling off a bus and…and where everyone eventually ends up.

Don't get me wrong: you won't be done out of a vicious meeting and a chase and a tense hunt sequence. You'll get the occasional bite of vindictive violence in word and / or deed. But the strength of it, isn't in those scenes. The strength is in the sense of people and of place. The whole backdrop, against a remote village trying to find its place in history as well as in the modern world, where the outsiders see the history but for those who live there it's all about windfarms and soldiers dying in Afghanistan and who cares about the archaeology and how can anyone make a sheep farm pay?

Just in case you get suckered into the romance of the highlands, Campbell takes the occasional trip back down to Glasgow to where Charlie Boy is ranting and raging against the woman who's had the sheer gall to walk out on him. It's not about the money. She could'a had the money. It's the humiliation. Later the author gives us a less clichéd look at the capital, but the dark side, she seems to think is still there, the thugs with their dogs and their weapons and their pride and their senseless rivalry.

Ultimately, it's the characterisation that works so well. Not told in the first person, the shifting viewpoints of the narrative shift ever so slightly in tone as the view moves from one to another. The language is exquisitely well-pitched, with just the right amount of dialectical tone scattered to make believe it's a rendered story from those involved.

It isn't going to grab everyone, and if I'm honest, it took a while to win me over, but it did so, and I can't help wondering if a second read might be even more rewarding.

For more modern takes on rural Scots crime we can recommend Lamb to the Slaughter by Aline Templeton or if you prefer the gentler side of things there's always M C Beaton's Hamish Macbeth to fall back on.

Buy Rise by Karen Campbell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Rise by Karen Campbell at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Rise by Karen Campbell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Rise by Karen Campbell at Amazon.com.


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