Rating: 5 stars
When a bus crash kills his mother and brother, Nichol Seacliff’s dreams of completing his linguistic degree and becoming a translator ends. Needed on the family hold on Arran Isle, Nichol returns to stone rooms full of memories and his stern grandfather, Harry. Now he spends his days with sheep, mired in mud and watching his family’s farm fall deeper into financial ruin and neglect. Patriarch Harry Seacliff, always a man of few words, speaks harshly to his less favored grandson when he speaks to him at all. This leaves Nichol grieving and alone, far from the university, his friends, and any gay relationships.
One night he hears the window break in an outbuilding and finds a young man hiding behind the hay, wet and blue from the cold. The trespasser introduces himself as Cameron, Cam for short and tells Nichol he is on the run from a gang in Glasgow. Nichol’s sympathetic nature triumphs over caution, and he finds himself bringing Cam inside the house to get warm, have something to eat and put on dry clothes. One nights stay lengthens into more as Cam endears himself first to Nichol and then, in a remarkable turn of events, to Harry as well, As winter turns into spring on Seacliff Farm, Nichol watches amazed as Cam forms a bridge between Harry and himself. He finds he is falling in love with Cam more each day and the idea of remaining on the farm becomes less painful with someone to share it with.
And then Cam’s past comes back to threaten their love and the safety of all who live on Seacliff Farm. When Cameron’s secret is known,who will pay the price of actions long past?
What an incredible story. From the opening sentence, the reader finds themselves immersed deep in Scottish culture, roaming over the hills of Arran, listening to the murmurs of the Gaelic language and watching for splashes of mermaids just off shore. Harper Fox has done such a excellent job of describing the island of Arran that I felt I had traveled there by the Calmac Ferry. Her love for the people, their culture and the land that gave birth to both flows like a wild river through the story. Indeed, her vivid portraits of the populace,and their abodes will make you feel as though you know them. The passages on life in the old farmhouse have a way of plonking me down next to the Aga in the kitchen, listening to Nichol’s grumblings on the miserly candle left burning to light the cold room, so real does Harper Fox make it. The rhythm of the Gaelic tongue is the rhythm of life itself on those rocky shores and cliffs. A ancient language whose written form bears little resemblance to the spoken word, Gaelic weaves itself through the heart of the story, overflowing the pages until one yearns to speak those words, to understand their meaning. I cannot begin to do justice here to its importance and beauty. Here is a small sampling:
After Harry had told Nichol that he lost the language. “But I haven’t. That was what I wanted to say to Harry. I remember every word you taught me, in here with the book and out on the moors and the shore where you pointed to dobhar, the otter, iasg-dearg, the salmon, the eagle iolair whose name you pronounced like the upward yearning of wings—oh-lia, oh-lia.”
“Beauty. Music. I still couldn’t look at Harry, but from the corner of my eye I saw that his grip on the chair had relaxed. I couldn’t forget the poems, not when I was taught them so young. Did you hear me, old man? It’s the nearest I can come to saying sorry. I turned the page. The summer poem was long, a great cadenced paean to life such as only a man who’d lived through West Isles winters could sing. Softly I began the next verse. Harry stood listening for a few moments longer then quietly walked out of the kitchen, pulling the door shut behind him.”
(Harper Fox. Scrap Metal, Samhain Publishing, Ltd.)
Time and again, Harper Fox brings us to tears and laughter through her use of the Gaelic tongue. Wait til you get to the paragraph where Harry asks Nichol if their new farmhand is gay, in Gaelic of course. Sheer perfection in every way.
Her characters are just as genuine and elemental as the land they are so much a part of. Nichol is such a complicated soul, gay but not out to his Granda, kind and stubborn, wanting so much more than his brother and recognizing the irony of being back on the farm he thought he had escaped for good. His anguish in the night over not being good enough to save the farm, not being good enough yet again for his Granda who he loved spoke so eloquently to his loss, and strength of character that it brought me to tears. And if Nichol is a wondrous creation, than Harry Seacliff is even more remarkable. As primal as the rocks of the cairn, and as deep as the lochs, Harry seems both as ancient as the land he loves and yet touched here and there with life in the present as with his use of the quads. Harry has a true Gaelic soul that sings beneath an exterior hardened by life on the island and life’s losses. I can still see Harry and his sheep dogs leaning against the dry stacked stonewall, contemplating the land of his ancestors. I felt like I knew him while I did not dare approach him. And Cameron, the city boy interloper, who unexpectedly finds home and a family, is so heartbreaking at points in this story that you just want to hold him as close as Nichol does. Character after character, living, breathing people come to the fore, giving this story unbelievable depth and grace.
I have read and loved other books by Harper Fox and I was still unprepared for Scrap Metal. Her gifts and skill as an author amazes me with it’s ability to transport the reader into another world, enchant them with the people and their stories, and leave us a little heartbroken by our exit. I love Scrap Metal. The story and people will stay with them for a long time to come.
Chan eil aon chànan gu leòr. Tapadh leibh, Harper Fox. Tha mo bhàta-foluaimein loma-làn easgannan. The translation? Clearly one language is never enough. Thank you, Harper Fox. My hovercraft is full of eels. OK, I just couldn’t resist the last one. I could see the islanders having their bit of fun with a tourist and had to throw that in. No quibbles here, just a bounty of love for the story and author. Please pick this book up, you won’t be sorry.
Cover: Art by Angela Waters. I liked this cover, with the dark background on top and landscape on the bottom. Did I wish for a little more of the craggy landscape? Yes, but it still has a great feel to it.
Available through Samhain Publishing, Ltd., Amazon, and ARe.
Find out more about the author and her books at www.harperfox.net.
My other recommendations include Driftwood and The Salisbury Key.