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Billie's Kiss (2002)

de Elizabeth Knox

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1676127,045 (3.09)22
Love and suspicion when a young woman survives after a ship explodes on docking at a Scottish island in 1903.
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I think this was on offer, but I’m not entirely sure what it was about the blurb which persuaded me to buy the book and read it. Something about “an Edwardian twist on The Tempest”, and a feeling the novel was sort of magical realism set some 100 years ago in the Shetlands. I knew nothing about the author, or even her most famous book, The Vinter’s Luck. Having now read Billie’s Kiss I can say many of the things its blurb promised it is not, although that does not make it a bad novel. Billie lives with her sister and brother-in-law. She is illiterate (actually dyslexic), a bit of a free spirit, and has been unable to find a situation of her own. Her brother-in-law is hired by a soap magnate, Lord Hallowhulme, who owns one of the Shetland islands, to catalogue the book collection in his castle there. Billie accompanies the couple. As the ferry approaches the island’s jetty, something in the hold explodes and the ship sinks, filling fifteen people. The magnate’s brother-in-law, Murdo Hesketh, a half-Swede who had served with the army in Stockholm but now works on the island, decides to investigate. This is by no means a murder-mystery. It’s the story of the Hallowhulme and Hesketh families, and the story of Billie, an innocent who gets caught up in pretty much everything that’s going on. It’s not an easy plot to summarise, and probably not worth the effort of doing so. Despite not being the book I was expecting it to be, I enjoyed Billie’s Kiss. The prose was generally good, if a little over-wrought in places, as indeed were some of the characters, and one or two of them tended a little toward pantomime. But it handled its time and place well, and Billie proved an interesting protagonist. Worth reading. ( )
  iansales | Jun 20, 2020 |
Wanted to enjoy this because I wanted something more by the author of Dreamhunter.  Turns out this is set in Scotland and is bleak & wet... at least by p. 50 or so, and according to many GR reviewers.  I might try again someday, cuz others liked it, and said it was more about the characters than plot or setting.... we'll see.
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 5, 2016 |
Didn't work as either a murder mystery (too many side stories) or a romance (unlikeable main characters) - pity, it was a great setting for a novel. ( )
  siri51 | Jun 24, 2015 |
A tricksy novel. I think I'll enjoy it more at the second read (but not for a while). She's a terrific writer, but I floundered a bit in places (this may have been my lack of concentration, rather than the book's failure to lay things out clearly enough!) Interweaving of multiple themes is compelling, and the characters work well... Maybe I don't have the right frames of reference - it's a long time since I last engaged with The Tempest. ( )
  AmberMcWilliams | Mar 15, 2015 |
I first stumbled upon Elizabeth Knox through her first novel The Vintner's Luck. I'm not sure what about it captured my imagination--okay, I'll admit to being shallow and tell you that sharing her last name was the first impetus for picking her book up at the bookstore--but something about that cover copy and the picture (plus her name) grabbed me and I ended up taking the book home with me. I absolutely wallowed in it. It was exquisite and I knew I would obsessively buy her books as I saw them come out. So when I found this one, I immediately snapped it up and promptly stowed it on a shelf to be forgotten in the mists of time. Seriously, I've owned it unread since 2002. But it seemed like the right time to blow the dust from the top edge and actually read it. I was hoping for another transcendent reading experience. Sadly I was disappointed. That is not to say that it isn't a good book, after all, how many times in one life can an author be transcendent, right? But I wanted to be blown away here and there was something holding me back from that sort of over the top reaction.

Billie is a young woman traveling with her very pregnant sister and brother-in-law to his new place of employment as a cataloguer for Lord Hallowhulme on a remote Scottish island. The trip has been long and rather arduous given pregnant Edith's desperate sea-sickness. Just minutes from landing, Billie and her brother-in-law kiss and Billie jumps from the ship. A heartbeat later, the ship explodes and many of the people on board are drowned, including Billie's sister Edith. Murdo Hesketh, a distant kinsman of Lord Hallowhulme's, undertakes an investigation into the explosion, initially convinced that Billie has had a hand in sabotage. While the mystery of the exploding boat weaves desultorily through the novel, the book as a whole is more a character study of Billie and Murdo, examining their past lives, ferreting out the secrets that have formed them into the remote, solitary beings they are in the pages of the novel.

With a narrative akin to swimming through layers of viscous liquid, this is a slow moving and awkwardly paced novel. Knox has pegged the desolation and spare beauty of the setting very well. The spareness is echoed in the characters' interactions with each other and the personal connections between them, main characters and supporting characters, needed more to make them real. A few of the drowned characters, those closest to Billie and Murdo, are given backstories but for the most part, even with backstory, they remain almost as enigmatic as the main characters do. After a languid investigation, the truth about the explosion comes out. Unfortunately it comes out quickly and cursorily, which leaves it at odds with the pace of the rest of the book. It also rather comes out of left field, disconcertingly enough. Despite these problems, Knox is clearly an impressive writer, having a lovely way with words. She submerges her reader deeply into the narrative and has recreated beautifully the turn of the twentieth century, drawing characters who exist comfortably within their time period. This may not have struck me the way that The Vintner's Luck did, but I will still look for Knox's other works (maybe even on my own shelves again?). ( )
1 vote whitreidtan | May 26, 2010 |
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In memory of my father, Ray Knox, 1926-2001
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The crossing was rough, and Edith unwell.
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Love and suspicion when a young woman survives after a ship explodes on docking at a Scottish island in 1903.

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