The Island Wife

Jessica Stirling, Author St. Martin's Press $24.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-312-19289-1
Definitely not Brigadoon, Stirling's (The Workhouse Girl, etc.) robust and completely absorbing novel set on Mull, a rugged island off the west coast of Scotland in the summer of 1878, is more like a dark and lustful Jane Eyre. The Campbells are a contentious but hardworking lot of Protestants, with the exception of Ronan, who's most often drunk. Much to his embarrassment, Ronan's wife Vassie owns the land, cattle and furnishings of their farm, Pennypol, and runs it successfully with their three daughters, Biddy, Innis and Aileen. But fortunes change when Austin and Walter Baverstock, two gentleman from Edinburgh, purchase the estate next door and hire a handsome, sensuous young shepherd--a Papist no less--to care for their sheep. The wall Vassie is building will no more keep him away from her daughters than it will keep the encroaching sheep off her cattle's grazing land. Despite the island's deep moral culture and strict religious and social conventions, the sisters and their shepherd, the drunken Ronan and Austin Baverstock brazenly pursue their passions. Death by drowning, incest, diseased cattle and ostracism are the manifestations of their sins. This story, the first in a trilogy, is salty, hot and breathless; you'll not want to close the book on these characters--both the lovable and the loathsome. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 11/30/1998
Release date: 12/01/1998
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