‘Apricot Sky’ by Ruby Ferguson describes the family life of a multi-generational Scottish family, who live on the west coast of Scotland, just over the water from Skye. The story encompasses a beautiful summer, a summer that will culminate in the marriage of the second daughter of the family, a girl called Raine, who will be marrying a local Scotsman called Ian.
Rather than being a book that has an overarching plot, this book is more a celebration of some perfectly crafted sublime moments, moments that celebrate Scotland and the Scottish way of life.
The time of the story is post-World War 2. In fact the eldest daughter Cleo, is returning to Scotland after working in America for three years. The close-knit family, especially Cleo and Raine’s mother, Mrs McAlvey are longing to welcome the absentee daughter back into the family fold at Kilchro House. The family have lost two of their sons in the war and three orphaned grandchildren have hence, made their home with their grandparents. Another son James, lives in a neighbouring Scottish village with his slightly neurotic wife but is mostly self absorbed in his own life.
With the summer left to plan Raine’s wedding, Mrs MacAlvey is looking forward to having her family around her and also entertaining family friends at Kilchro House.
Cleo, the eldest daughter has missed her home so much and has felt herself to be almost in exile over the past three years. Dreaming of all things related to her Scottish home and life, it is a relief for her to be at last back in Scotland. She is however, quite surprised to find her sister engaged and that too, to a man who is the brother of the love of her life. Raine is in fact engaged to Ian but it is his brother Neil, who holds Cleo’s affections and she has kept this fact secret, her entire life. Neil Garvine is the eldest Garvine brother and is in fact the ‘laird’ of Larrich – the Garvine property. Farmers for many generations, although the Garvine property is extensive the house is rather tumbledown and in preparation for the new bride’s arrival, undergoes a major renovation over the summer.
‘Apricot Sky’ is one of those wonderful books that is quite devoid of plot but the characters are so interesting and the writing so descriptive and resonant of time and place – that it propels the story forward and never loses its appeal.
I was so interested in the characters, their varying moods and motivations. Their daily activities – from fly fishing, to sailing, gardening, hosting a garden party, visiting friends and relatives, going on a day trip to the Isle of Skye, sailing, picnicking or discussing home improvements. It reminded me so much of an O Douglas novel – which from me is one of the greatest compliments – as I do love the style of Douglas.
A great deal of the book is quite introspective in that we are privy to Cleo’s inner musings and insecurities. She is a little unsure of her place in the world and always eager to please, is afraid of not being liked. This frequently gets in the way of her ability to talk naturally with Neil, whom she is particularly eager to impress.
“They might be critical. They must like her. It was one of the defects of her character that she was so dependent on the good opinion of others. Cleo MacAlvey could think of no worse desolation than that those she liked should not like her.”
Cleo also is revealed to be a person incapable of hurting other people’s feelings, even for her own advantage, and therefore supposed to ‘consequently … never go far in life.’
In this way, Ruby Ferguson immediately ensures that as an object for Neil Garvine’s affections – Cleo is the underdog and therefore, she secures our sympathy.
Another very interesting character is that of Cleo’s mother – Mrs MacAlvey. The typical matriarch – thriving from the energy derived from having a busy home – with family and friends – children and grandchildren – perhaps this is her means of keeping loneliness and tragedy at bay. There is post war rationing, but this does not seem to impede the MacAlvey sense of enjoyment of life.
Perhaps for me, the nicest thing about reading ‘Apricot Sky’ for me, was the beautiful sense of contentment and hope that the book gave me. Despite having gone through great tragedy and loss, upheaval and displacement, the joy of heart and home, family ties and the joy of homecoming are very much evident. Another lovely ode to Scotland, Ruby Ferguson displays her love for her country in ‘Apricot Sky’.
“Highland skies and seas are noted for their opalescent colours, and this particular sky and sea had everything in the way of changing shades …”
Similarly, in redecorating the family homestead at Larrich, Cleo and Raine discover a small damp sitting room framing a magnificent view. Raine views the mould and fungus in the damp room and shudders but Cleo with great foresight sees the promise in the house and the prospect of the view. She decides on a yellow room with fresh linens – not a buttercup yellow but an elusive shade of yellow that her sister and she describe in the following passage.
“Spare me buttercups. I’d want that heavenly boiled gold colour you see in the sky when the sun has just gone down. What would you call it?”
“Apricot?” Suggested Cleo.
“That’s it. Tinned apricot. We’ll have a tinned apricot sitting-room looking out at a heavenly apricot sky.”
It is this love for the natural landscape of Scotland that emanates through the novel and makes it such a joy to read. Do bring a glimpse of this ‘Apricot Sky’ into your life and enjoy it for all its worth.
The e-book for ‘Apricot Sky’ was a Press copy from Dean Street Press but all impressions of this book are completely my own.