Beyond the Blue
Industrial Dundee, Scotland, is the background for this hauntingly beautiful tale of four women’s awakenings to love, death, and truth. With the able-bodied men at war and the onslaught of the 1918 influenza outbreak, life often seems bleak. Morag and her daughter Wallis work at the local jute-weaving factory, with hundreds of other women who endure long hours, brutal conditions, low pay, and almost certain death from either respiratory illness or the carding and weaving machines themselves. At home sits the lovely, lively Caro, Morag’s other daughter, and young cousin Imogen, who was abandoned by her father and orphaned by her mother’s desperate death.
All four women dream of escape to a better, brighter life; for Morag, this would mean no more nightmares about her mother’s and sister’s senseless deaths, a man who doesn’t abuse her, and good futures for her girls. Wallis secretly dreams of migrating to Ireland, to rejoin her childhood friends Rosemary and (especially) Paddy Hennessey and all that the Catholic, rather than Protestant, way of life embraces. Caro schemes to use her looks as her ticket to a rich husband and a nice home, far from the tenement house, not understanding that men can use her to their advantage, as well. Imogen imagines a full life, which would contain her adored father, Oliver, and complete memories of her mother, rather than the dreamlike fragments which trouble her now.
War, politics, religion, and discrimination by gender and class are all interwoven by MacPherson (When She Was Electric) into an entrancing tale in which the reader experiences the pivotal year of 1918 through these four lives and their loves. At times enchanting, at times gritty, this novel bustles with realism yet still provides many uplifting moments.