Although rocks have always symbolized stability, in fact to a geologist what they show is change. Over time, mountains push up from the earth, mesas and buttes are formed, striations appear, arroyos are carved out, and the shapes metamorphose. But all this takes a very long time. In Gillard’s first novel, Emotional Geology, she weaves a story of emotional healing into the contoured landscape that plays such a large role in the lives of its inhabitants. The process of healing, like the process of geological formation, is many-layered, slow, and inexorable. And with both, the surface must be penetrated to discover the secrets within. The smooth rock face that you see from far off is revealed to have fractures and fissures when you get close. And the stony exterior may conceal the sparkling essence of a precious gem.
On a remote isle of Uist, west of the coast of Scotland, Rose Leonard comes to live and try to rebuild her sanity after the betrayal of her lover Gavin and her subsequent mental breakdown. Diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder, she seeks the tranquility and isolation of the Hebrides Isles where she can feel more in control. She sets up a workroom for her textile art and balances the intrusiveness of bad memories with the onslaught of sea and wind and weather. Through her textiles she looks for patterns to anchor and explain her feelings.
Among her new neighbors is a handsome poet, Calum, who is also a technical rock climber like Gavin was. Now Calum only climbs in summers on the Isle of Skye, and otherwise teaches school and writes poems. There is a sadness about him; a forced gaiety; but he remains as silent as stone. He and Rose are drawn to each other, and to the ways in which their text and textures complement each other. They plan a joint exhibit of their work.
As their relationship grows, they both realize they cannot rush the geologic-like process of healing from their previous heartbreaks. Together, they struggle to help each other break through the carapaces they have built up around themselves. They count on time and nature to reshape them, even as it remolds the mountains of their island.
Evaluation: Although this book does not exhibit the polish of Gillard’s later work, it is nevertheless astounding in its ability to capture the reality of people and behavior and emotions. The dialogue seems honest and true, like the characters. You don’t want to leave them when the book is over, because these are people just like your friends and family, who have strengths and weaknesses that seem familiar. There is definitely emotional pain in this book, but there is a lot of humor and a lot of the complex ropy entanglements of love as well. Gillard’s books are not light summer reading; they have more gravitas; they are enduring. Highly recommended.
Published by Transita, 2005