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by Tim McGregor

Eynhallow, one of the smaller Orkney Islands, is a rugged, inhospitable place. Seventy-five hectares in size, it is a mere speck in the North Atlantic, now preserved as a bird sanctuary. As Toronto writer Tim McGregor notes in the brief preface to his stunning new novel, “The last inhabitants of Eynhallow abandoned the island in 1841. The remaining domiciles were destroyed a decade later to prevent future habitation.”

Set in 1797, Eynhallow is narrated by Agnes, one of the handful of permanent residents of the island. Agnes, an “outlandishly tall with unwomanly strength and an inordinate tolerance for pain,” came from Kirkwall, on Orkney’s largest island, Mainland, after her reluctant marriage to Mr. Tulloch, a true Eynhallow islander. “The wind never stops here,” she muses, early in the book, “nagging the shutters or rattling the door like it wants to come in. The breath of God, some call it. Not me, but others. Rain pummels the roof and leaks through the thatch. . . . The racket is enough to raise the dead.” With four small children, an abusive husband, and a tiny, crumbling house, Agnes has a hard life, but she presses on, making the most of her existence, and tries not to complain.

Her life changes when a stranger comes to the island and takes up residence in one of the abandoned cottages. Mr. Tulloch arranges for Agnes to cook and clean for the newcomer (Tulloch will keep her wages, naturally), and Agnes finds herself, after a rough start, entering into a friendship with the strange gentleman, who introduces himself as Victor Frankenstein.

McGregor’s novel situates itself easily and unassumingly within the narrative of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, at the point when the scientist – under threat by the creature he has brought to life – sequesters himself in the Orkney Islands to fashion a mate for his creation. It’s a turning point in Shelley’s novel, but one doesn’t need a familiarity with the classic to find Eynhallow not only compelling, but genuinely disquieting.

Eynhallow is a novel of atmosphere, of shadows – a windswept Gothic rooted in the indomitable force of its central character. McGregor takes his time (even in this relatively short book) establishing Agnes and her close relationships, the difficulty of life on the island, and the trap she finds herself in with her marriage. In particular, her relationship with Katie, her very pregnant neighbour, is a bawdy, joyful delight, a strong counterpoint to her relationship with her husband. It’s a closely observed approach that continues after Frankenstein’s arrival (and the arrival of a mysterious, hulking figure that begins to haunt the island). That close observation serves to heighten the horror as the novel progresses and Victor’s work nears completion.

Eynhallow is starkly chilling. While rooted in Frankenstein (both the novel and the mythos that has developed around it over the intervening centuries), McGregor has crafted a boldly original work. It is a powerful, at times terrifying novel – a brilliant creation itself.


Reviewer: Robert J. Wiersema

Publisher: Raw Dog Screaming Press/Ingram


Price: $23.99

Page Count: 178 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 978-1-94787-967-6

Released: Feb.

Issue Date: March 2024

Categories: Fiction: Novels