An inexpert but frequently impressive first novel, Soor Hearts is set in Shetland in the early years of this century. Magnus Doull, having sailed before the mast for ten years, returns to the fishing village from which he had fled under suspicion of having murdered Thomas Pole. Nearly everyone believes him guilty, since the two young men had been seen to quarrel. Both had been drinking heavily for a fortnight, and when Pole was found 'with his head crushed under a fearful blow' Doull took fright and bolted from the island. Whether or not it was he who killed Pole, he can't remember. For a time he is allowed to settle down in the family croft with his widowed mother, Meenie Doull. Meenie has the 'sight', reinforced by a pack of Tarot cards given her by a gipsy. She spends much time in probings of the future. She reveals to her son that a girl called Nina, who had borne him a still-born child after his flight, is now the village harlot, and that Isabella Agnes, Pole's widow, nurses a thirst for vengeance. He seeks a reunion with Nina, but she declines it and leaves the island. He attends a church service, and is fulminated against by the minister from his pulpit. Magnus makes a spirited reply: 'You call this da House o' da Lord. Pah! It is da House o' Oppression. A tool of da ruling classes to keep da poor fae rebelling ... ' This outburst is injudicious. The villagers are affronted. Further incensed by the law's delays, they seize Magnus and lock him up in a shed. Isabella, who knows that witches and persons possessed should be burned, not hanged, sets fire to it. Meenie hastens to the rescue and is drowned on the way. Everybody believes that Magnus is dead, but in fact he escapes through the roof of the burning building, and departs for New Zealand.
LRB 2 February 1984 | PDF Download