Set against the backdrop of a boarding house owned by a reclusive eccentric, two young men forge a complicated friendship. Tom is tall, blonde and good looking and works in advertising while Daniel is quiet and ordinary and has a love of all things ancient and beautiful. In the midst of their friendship is Orla, Tom’s attractive girlfriend who is not quite prepared for the mystical elements which appear in the peculiar house.
Daniel finds a diary in a friend’s house and is inspired to keep it because of the gorgeous handwriting and the fact it was written last century by a James Lennoxlove who may or may not have killed someone in a house possibly called ‘Bitterhall’. The story revolves around the excerpts in the diary and the sexual desires of the trio and is recounted by the three friends from each of their respective points of view.
The reader is (possibly intentionally) never quite sure what is actually happening or what is imagined. There is a dark ghostly quality to Helen McClory’s tale revealing multiple perspectives and strange unexplained incidents. For example, Tom was apparently orphaned when he was young and appears to have suffered depression which he has kept hidden until now.
Set in Scotland, Bitterhall, has a dark brooding backdrop and there are some beautiful descriptions of seasonal scenery but the characters are not totally believable or perhaps not even real…
Part ghost story and part about discovering the sort of person you think you are and want to become, Bitterhall is a unique read and one which will not be to everyone’s taste. However, despite the lack of a believable plot, it will no doubt be ideal for readers who like short snappy chapters with not too much substance. Author Helen McClory is famed for her short stories and this novel is written in a similar vein, like a series of short stories narrated by the inhabitants of the boarding house.