Imagine giving up the life you’ve known, packing up the car with your few remaining possessions and driving north to where the land meets the never-ending ocean. Now imagine the move as an attempt to outpace the memories you wish to be locked away and hidden even from yourself. This is Maggie Thames’ story in Call of the Undertow by Linda Cracknell. A freelance cartographer on the run from her memories, Maggie Thames leaves Oxford, England for the far edge of Scotland. She chooses a lonely cabin set aside from the village of Caithness an isolated outpost on the far north coast.
Call of the Undertow begins with a snowman. On one late winter morning before spring hits the far north, a snowman appears outside Maggie’s cottage. She is troubled by the appearance. She ponders the mystery of the snowman and the person who made it. The cabin was chosen for its remoteness to the nearby village of Caithness. From this beginning, the reader starts to understand that Maggie is seeking segregation and she is hiding secrets. She enters the village only as necessary and avoids children until the day she is called out to speak on map making at the local grade school (primary). It is at the school that she first meets and becomes beguiled by a young boy, Trothan Gilbertson, as much a mystery as she is. As the days progress, Maggie slowly warms to Trothan’s company as the two walk the paths surrounding Caithness.
Linda Cracknell describes landscape as seen on a map with deft beauty, using cunning visualization to portray land formations within the lines and markers on the map’s page. Cracknell’s imagery of the land leading to and from Maggie’s ‘Flotsam Cottage’ creates a visually familiar pathway so well illustrated that the descriptions alone make me want to traverse those isolated roads as well. The landscape within Call of the Undertow accentuates the isolation Maggie desires. It is the vast, stark, moody lands that form and enhance the characters of Caithness.
Throughout the novel, Maggie remains somewhat distant. She is not only an enigma to the residents of Caithness, but also to the reader. Maggie guards her secrets well and it takes time to begin to understand why Maggie left the intellectual society of Oxford for the isolation of the north Scottish coast. This detachment does not detract from Maggie’s character, but bolsters the intrigue of Maggie’s spirit. In spite of Maggie’s guarded nature, she is a likeable character and is, at times, vulnerable in her self-imposed seclusion, especially after meeting Trothan.
Call of the Undertow is a quiet, thoughtful read. The novel mirrors the moody landscape so well described by Linda Cracknell. Secrets of both land and characters are slow to be revealed and some secrets remain hidden allowing the reader to determine what may or may not be the truth.
Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Freight Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.