'The Secret of Ardnish' by Angus MacDonald is fourth in his series of books following the lives of the Gillies family. We first met them in 'Ardnish: A Novel', which was set between 1900 and 1944 when Donald John Gillies was head of the family. Move forward to the 21st Century and we have new family members to meet, this time spread across the globe, but brought together to celebrate the life of another Gillies patriarch, Donald Angus.
We start by focussing on the part of the Gilles clan now in Canada; some members having relocated there and others being born there. Peter Angus Gillies and his sister Nathalie live with their grandfather Donald Angus and, as in 'Ardnish: A Novel', the narrative begins on a deathbed. At the passing of his grandfather, Peter Angus receives only a small inheritance, but also a letter from him, which marks the beginning of a journey from Canada to Scotland, the land of his ancestors.
Fuelled by a fascination borne out of his grandfather’s extremely detailed and poignant descriptions of his life spent in Ardnish and the surrounding area, Peter Angus commits his inheritance to visiting and exploring the long-abandoned places where his forebears eked out a living. He is welcomed into his Scottish family and, with the help of a local girl, Sarah, he embarks on a very personal journey: to walk in the footsteps of generations of the Gillies family, long gone, who made their homes in this beautiful but often inhospitable landscape.
Hearing stories about his ancestors, Peter Angus learns of centuries-old lost treasure and this piques his interest and provides an added dimension to his explorations. What he doesn't expect is to add a romantic element to his trip, but the connection he feels with Sarah, and she with him, is obvious from the very first time they meet.
'The Secret of Ardnish' is very much a coming-of-age novel. Peter Angus Gilles may be in his late twenties, but his life up to this point has been steady and comfortable and, despite the early loss of his parents, without any real challenges. His journey to Ardnish gives him purpose and the chance to gain a better understanding of both the wider world and of himself. Peter Angus’s story is poignantly and sensitively written, offering up insights into the workings of the mind of a young man at a turning point in his life.