Off the Isle of Man lies the tiny island of Ellan Bride, an outpost of fabulous isolation, often veiled from the outside world in a shroud of mist like the magical isles in Celtic lore. Ellan Bride is home to colonies of puffins and seals, to the odd basking shark, and to two women and their three children. After her brother’s death, Lucy Geddes has manned the lighthouse of Ellan Bride, and her paltry wages are the sole income supporting herself, her widowed sister-in-law, Diya, and the children. The family ekes out a precarious living, eating from Diya’s garden and raising pigs and goats. Used to this lonely existence, the children dream of the sea god Manannan mac Lir and hold secret meetings in the ancient keeil, or hermit’s chapel, once the haunt of Saint Bride who gave the island its name. Lucy, an unwed mother, and Diya, born in a Hindu household in India, are outcasts, and the island is both their prison and refuge, the one place where they will not be judged. But that is all to change irrevocably.
The Commission of the Northern Lights is intent on modernising the lighthouses of Britain. In May 1831, Scottish surveyor Archibald Buchanan and his apprentice Ben Groats arrive in Ellan Bride to map the island and make arrangements for the building of a new lighthouse. Lucy knows the Commission will never employ a woman and thus she will soon lose both her livelihood and her home. As she and Diya struggle to come to terms with their uncertain future, the two men find that they are indelibly changed by the austere island and its proud, independent women.
Set over three days, but spanning 421 pages, this quiet, slow-moving novel is a moving portrait of Ellan Bride in all its haunting beauty.