The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle by Kirsty Wark
The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle, by Kirsty Wark, is a sturdy novel about memory and regret from a beloved BBC broadcaster. It starts with Elizabeth, an elderly woman on the remote Scottish Island of Arran, deciding to leave her house, in her will, to a holiday maker, Anna, who was once interested in buying it. The bequest falls into the hands of Martha, Anna’s daughter, as Anna has been diagnosed with Dementia. A lot of soul-searching and detective work ensues when Martha starts to settle in Elizabeth’s house, away from her native Glasgow, and meets Elizabeth’s friends.
The narrative chops back and forth between Martha and Elizabeth. Martha takes a redundancy package from her journalism job, comes to terms with her mother’s condition and starts to make a new life after a recent divorce. The rehabilitation that Martha gains from Arran contrasts to Elizabeth’s life-long solitude that is punctuated by near misses and loss. The chronicle of Elizabeth’s life, teaching at the local school, charts both World Wars and Elizabeth’s distance from building human connections for the majority of her life. It’s only towards the end of her life that she builds friendships: two young newcomers to the island encourage Elizabeth to write her memoir – that, in turn, changes Martha’s life.
Wark does well to capture both Martha and Elizabeth’s characters: the move from Martha’s rushing back and forth from Glasgow to Arran, full of relationships and conflict, to Elizabeth’s still life, shaped by rare encounters with others, is well crafted. A lot of work has gone into creating strong bases of characters on Arran and in Glasgow as well as making Elizabeth’s house a central connection between the two women.
The narrative certainly takes its time and sometimes loses the balance between pace and atmosphere. It can feel a tad too long and the ending somewhat hollow. A big reveal at the end that tries to explain Elizabeth in one central event doesn’t have the sensitivity of the rest of the novel and is a reductive move for a work that does have a lot of heart. After this drama is revealed, the end of the book is tied up into an idyllic postcard of Arran.
Overall, there are some touching moments – Anna’s mental state is poignant but not overdone – and The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle is an enjoyable read with characters that feel familiar but never very resonant. Wark writes with a lot of passion and is good story teller, but the novel remains a lightweight read that falls into moments of clumsiness and an all too neat ending.
REVIEWER: Jazz Croft
TITLE: The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle
AUTHOR(S): Kirsty Wark