“The rhythm of the glen, the rhythm of new life in the language of the old ones.”
Liminal, by Bee Lewis, takes a series of typically modern day problems and plays them out within the backdrop of a timeless and somewhat threatening wilderness. There are surreal elements and sections where the language and imagery are rich to the point of over indulgence. Dream sequences are necessarily mystical and somewhat disturbing. Their intensity requires interpretation that I’m not convinced I achieved.
The day to day sections are written as more standard domestic thriller with just a suggestion of the supernatural. The protagonists are struggling with a frustrating inability to communicate.
The story is told over the course of a week leading up to Easter. Esther and her husband, Dan, have uprooted their comfortable lives in the centre of vibrant Bristol to move to a remote glen in the Highlands of Scotland. They have purchased a long disused railway station which they intend to renovate and turn into a writers’ centre. Cut off from mobile phone signals and internet access, the radical change they have chosen is yet another challenging shift in lives already derailed.
Esther is newly pregnant and determined to make her faltering marriage work for the sake of their child. Her own childhood was difficult, although she now plans to try to build bridges. She regards the move as a fresh start and a way to remove Dan from the influence of his overbearingly religious father. Esther is still grieving two recent and significant losses. Dan is struggling to cope with his enforced change of career. Neither is able to talk to the other about their true feelings. Both are keeping secrets while blaming the other for not sharing.
Arriving at their new home they discover the fridge and cupboards unexpectedly stocked with food. A neighbour, Mike, pops by to introduce himself and explain that this is by way of welcome. When a thick fog settles over the land overnight it becomes too risky to leave the glen. Esther is suffering intense dreams where she is being hunted in the neighbouring forests. As an amputee her mobility is impaired.
The trees and the various creatures observe the new arrivals. Each day is a struggle to contain festering resentments. Esther is aware of her marital issues but tries to suppress their importance. These play out in her dreams which appear to offer both threat and potential for freedom. At times she feels inexplicably attuned to her surroundings but cannot understand what they are trying to tell her. Dan is concerned she is suffering some sort of breakdown.
Over the course of the coming days Mike is a regular visitor. He and Dan are at ease with each other – Esther has never previously seen her husband relax in this way. She is also drawn to Mike but unsure how to behave with him. Esther is unsettled, unable to quash her suspicion that Dan is once again hiding important facts from her. The fog renders them prisoners in a building that harbours its own secrets.
The failing marriage, the cut off setting and the enigmatic stranger are well portrayed. The dream sequences and anthropomorphised nature add to the spooky tension. The plot progression felt somewhat slow at times until the denouement. The reveal had been foreshadowed, but required a sudden character shift.
There were aspects of the story that I wanted to work – interesting ideas and suggestions. The writing conjured the requisite disturbance but ultimately lacked coherence. I wish it were otherwise but this affected my enjoyment. It was not a tale that worked for me.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Salt.