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Beyond the Blue

by Andrea MacPherson

If anyone ever wondered what drove so many Scots from the romantic land of Robbie Burns, MacPherson’s new novel provides us with answers aplenty. Readers begin to get a clear picture of conditions by the fifth page, when young Elsie is sucked into the machinery at the mill.

MacPherson, great-granddaughter of a jute-mill worker, sets her new novel entirely in Dundee, Scotland, during the First World War. Rain-sodden and blackened by Blakean, satanic mills, it is a city of women, the few men left mostly old,
infirm, or broken.

Like MacPherson’s acclaimed first novel, When She Was Electric, this is a story of determined women: Morag, her two daughters, and a niece. Morag’s brutal husband is missing in action, his death the answer to several prayers, no tragedy except for him. Morag and her elder daughter Wallis work 14-hour days in the jute factory, Caro clerks in the post office, and Imogen goes to school.

Even in their crowded tenement flat they guard their inner lives, all that sustains them. Morag hides the mill fever already bloodying her handkerchief and pays guilty visits to a faith healer. Wallis flirts furtively with Catholicism, linked in her heart to a childhood passion. Caro plots a dangerous seduction of the mill owner, determined to use her beauty to deliver her from squalor. Imogen pines for the father who ran off and later, for the mother. And waiting in the wings is the latest threat – influenza.

MacPherson is also a poet, and her elegant, lyrical wordsmithing gives the book much of its considerable power. She shifts fluidly between these four characters, moving in and out from sharp close-up to sooty landscape, from danger and disappointment to fragile hope.


Reviewer: Maureen Garvie

Publisher: Random House Canada


Price: $29.95

Page Count: 352 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 978-0-679-31422-6

Released: Jan.

Issue Date: 2007-1

Categories: Fiction: Novels