The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle by Kirsty Wark

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The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle by Kirsty Wark

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Newsnight/The Review Show's Kirsty Wark can write fiction and this is the book that proves it. The lives of three women from three generations entwine to make a tale of utter beauty set against the geographical beauty of Arran.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: March 2014
Publisher: Two Roads
ISBN: 978-1444777604

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Elizabeth Pringle bequeathed her house on Arran to Anna Morrison even though she didn't actually know her. Anna just happened to walk past and ask to buy the house decades earlier. Elizabeth hadn't said yes but always remembered the young lady, walking past with the baby in the pram. The baby, Martha, is now an adult visiting Elizabeth's house – Anna's house – after Elizabeth's death. Through the belongings that Elizabeth left with it, Martha sees glimpses of a past life while hoping that that this refuge will now become a haven for her mother before it's too late and while she still has a mind to take her back to the good times.

Kirsty Wark, doyenne of BBC TV's Newsnight and The Review Show has always loved Arran and so it's only fitting that she sets this, her first novel there. What's not so inevitable is that it would be so very, very good.

The novel switches between the present seen through Martha's eyes and the past via Elizabeth's viewpoint. Elizabeth takes us back through two wars and a life of hard times, loving and yearning that also reflects the fascinating history of Arran during the 20th century. While Martha shows us contemporary Arran as it becomes the backdrop to her coming to terms with her life.

This coming to terms is also the reason why we don't see through Anna's eyes: Anna has slowly deepening dementia. For Martha the island isn't about the past but the possibility of a future it can bring her family and the hope that it will help her reach through to her mother.

Please don't be put off by any thoughts of imminent depression. Kirsty hasn't written a dirge but a tribute to life and indomitability with smiles and excitement among the minutiae and discoveries. Similarly this isn't a lump of high-fallutin' literature. This wonderfully enthralling story held together by three redoubtable, engaging and very real women is for everyone (with perhaps a specific leaning towards women's fiction) but the layers exist for those who want to dig.

For anyone wishing wield the literary spade, The Legacy is, for me ('for me' being the reviewers' cop out phrase in case anyone wants to disagree!) is about control and how at different stages of life we either wrest or relinquish it. The themes of control, in fact, come and go in the story like the waves on Arran's shores: how others control us, be it obviously or implicitly, kindly or malignantly and the factors that decide whether we retain it or pass it on.

Kirsty marries fiction with real events; some we all know about, like the two World Wars. Others however, are more obscure like the plane crash at Mullach Buidhe in 1941. However the clever thing is that, through this narrative we don't only glimpse the history of Arran but also how others around the world view her.

The thing that may mildly irk some (so mildly that it didn't affect the grading) is the way in which Kirsty namedrops regarding artefacts and items throughout. A sketch is a Cadell sketch, a bannister reminds us of Frank Lloyd Wright and so it goes on, from time to time a piece is mentioned needing a famous name as comparator or prefix. However when a novel is so sublimely beautiful, textured and contains people that I think about for ages after finishing it, it can only be a 5 star.

By the end of the novel we've laughed and cried with everyone including Saul, the amazingly unstereotypical American Buddhist monk. (There must be a literary prize for the way he's seamlessly inserted to fit so well!) We experience the parallel wonder and ruggedness of life on Arran that makes it almost a character in its own right. We also wonder when Kirsty's next novel is coming out but, since it's still being written at the time I type this, we'll just need to be patient.

We'd very much like to thank Two Roads for providing us with a copy for review.

Further Reading: If you've enjoyed this then we're betting you'll also like The House at Riverton by Kate Morton.

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Buy The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle by Kirsty Wark at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle by Kirsty Wark at

Booklists.jpg The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle by Kirsty Wark is in the Top Ten Historical Fiction Books 2014.


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