Monday, 7 December 2015

A Sense of Place: The Ecology of Lonesomeness

There’s something almost luxurious about a book set in a place you know, especially one you know and love. David O’Brien’s The Ecology of Lonesomeness is set in one of my favourite places in the whole world, the area around Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. It begins with the hero, Kaleb, going to the chip shop in the village of Fort Augustus, which frustrated me intensely, because everybody knows that the best chips actually come from the pub on the corner.

Never mind: this is a book chat, not a tourist information post. But the point stands — David knows his area, even if his taste in chips leaves something to be desired. As a reader, location is important to me. I need to feel where I am and I need to understand it. Okay, I know the area; but even if I didn’t I’m pretty sure I would have been able to see it and feel it, smell the pine woods and hear the birds and the wind in the trees. 

Enough of the setting: to the plot (forgive me if I’m vague but I’m trying to talk about it without giving you the dreaded spoiler). Kaleb is an American biologist researching what we geeks would call the carrying capacity of Loch Ness, in an effort to prove beyond all doubt that the loch is incapable of supporting a monster. He meets Jessie, a local lass, who works in the chip shop and the two fall in love (despite the rather old-fashioned opposition of her parents). 

Loch Ness
Jessie has a secret and, almost inevitably, Kaleb’s research leads him closer to it than she’s comfortable with, leaving them both with difficult choices. It’s a rollicking read, though I’m a delicate flower and for me there was a bit too much (unnecessary) swearing. There was quite a lot of sex in it too, and although I’m no prude I did find that it got in the way of the plot. Sorry, David — I skipped some of those scenes, but you can take it as a compliment because I was more interested in what happened next than in who was putting what where back at the caravan. 

I’m coming back to the location, though, because scene-setting is important, to me at any rate. I enjoyed the plot, the characters were real and the setting is beautifully done. For the most part it’s accurate, too, although I’m pretty certain that there are some bits David made up to suit himself (unless I don’t know the old place as well as I thought). That doesn’t matter: the whole thing is entirely convincing and the setting is the perfect frame for the plot.  

David O’Brien is a fellow author at Tirgearr and he and I chatted a bit on social media before the book came out, so it’s absolutely no exaggeration to say that I was desperate for the book to appear on my Kindle so I could read it. And reader: I wasn’t disappointed. Have a look and see what you think.


  1. Thanks so much for giving us your thoughts on the book, Jennifer.
    It's true I did pave an imaginary road and plant Jessie's Bed and Breakfast where none exists, just so the action was taking place where the logic of ecology told me it should. But the other places do exist, or did, even the mobile home!
    I'm delighted you liked the setting - as I told you, it's been a few years since I was in Fort Augustus. I'm glad the chips have improved in the Bothy!
    Sorry you skipped the sex - it's pretty mild, I think (compared to the City Nights stuff!) and I apologise for the swearing - I confess myself an unnecessary swearer!

  2. Sex and swearing are a matter of taste anyway: it was an observation rather than a criticism, and I suppose matters to some people. I think you can consider yourself a victim of your own storytelling. I wasn't bothered by the heat level at all - I just wanted to get on with the plot! It was a great read, though. Loved it.