As it’s Christmas, I have been doing a fair bit of baking, putting together dishes to please family and friends. With a clear recipe to follow and the correct ingredients, carefully measured, most things seem to have turned out well. Like a rich cake, ‘The Girl on the Ferryboat‘, a novel published both in English and Gaelic, had all the ingredients to be a big hit with me – a love story, set in Scotland, with a heavy dose of sea travel to bind it all together. But the resultant novel didn’t really grab me – despite its parts, the literary cake fell flat.
Alexander, a university lecturer, looks back upon his life, reflecting upon opportunities taken but also those missed. Having just lost his wife, he is returning to the Outer Hebrides, the land of his childhood. On a whim, he decides to visit Iona and whilst making the ferry crossing, he meets Helen. He recognises her as the same girl he saw on the ferry when he was a young man, a recent Oxford graduate heading back to Scotland. Back then, Alasdair only spoke briefly to Helen, but fell in love with her instantly. Their chance meeting some 35 years later, allows them to kindle the flame which was not given a chance in their youth.
Written by Angus Peter Campbell (surely a Scotsman with a name like that!) this is undoubtedly a well-written story but I think it just didn’t suit me. Parts of the novel read like a CV, interspersed with musings on Gaelic language, folklore and attempts at philosophical wisdom. Every now and again there was a nugget of something interesting, but then the author would wander off in another direction and lose the thread. Most of all though, I struggled with the central premise, that Alexander could literally see someone for thirty seconds and remain in love with her for over a quarter of a century. So disappointing when you want that same instant burst of passion from a book – but in this case, the ferryboat sailed without me.