"The Treacle Well" by Moira Forsyth is a book that gets under your skin and creates a deep sense of unease as you progress from cover the cover. The compulsion to read on is strong, as the characters draw you in and allow you share in their lives, their joys, their trials and tribulations. But there is also an unnerving sense of there being another story behind the one unfolding on the pages of this book; one that is darker and more disturbing than the one being told.
We first meet the family whose lives we are to follow in 1958 at home on the family farm, Braeside, close to Aberdeen. Sister and brother, Janet and Gordon, have children and responsibilities. Janet has Esther and Louise and husband Harry, whilst Gordon has teenage twins Caroline and Daniel to first wife Bess, and a much younger child, Margaret, to second wife Diana. But Gordon and Diana have no time for their responsibilities, preferring instead to offload them onto others, as they pursue a globetrotting lifestyle that has no place in it for children. The twins are sent away to school, spending holidays with grandparents Celia and Andrew at Braeside. Ever tolerant sister Janet sees a short term arrangement turn into a long term commitment, and she ends up raising young Margaret as if she were her own. As the years pass the twins seek to loosen family ties. Both start medical degrees and move to Glasgow, but it is their decision to travel to a party one fateful Winter night that leads to an accident whose consequences are to have a lifelong impact on each and every family member. As we follow the children into adulthood and the adults through to old age, we see each one deeply affected by the ripple effects of a single event.
"The Treacle Well" takes us deep into the lives of its characters and creates a strong sense of place and fondness for the family home, Braeside, to whom all are drawn to return at different times. The narrative visits each family member at a point in their life when they are seeking to justify the decisions they have made and analyse the outcomes. Janet mourns the loss of not having a third child of her own, a choice she made because Margaret needed her. Esther builds a comfortable life for herself, but still questions whether it has been a fulfilling one. Louise leads what seems to be a charmed life, but secretly craves the security and stability that have eluded her. Gordon returns to Braeside late in life, seeking solace in his childhood home. Caroline is successful, but her life lacks fulfillment and she is haunted by the past. And Margaret, well she feels forever the unwanted one. This is a captivating book that draws the reader in and will keep you turning the page to the very end.