Linda Cracknell, Call of the Undertow (Freight, 2013)
by Emilie Anderson
Linda Cracknell’s Call of the Undertow begins with Maggie Thame, a cartographer, moving from Oxford to a remote village on the coast of Caithness in Scotland, and continues as an often heart-warming story of Maggie’s personal and professional transformation.
As Maggie gets to know her new surroundings and meets the locals, the dark, bleak atmosphere that she encounters at the beginning of the novel evolves into a fascination with the nature evoked in vivid descriptions of birds and the sea. The village emerges from this atmosphere, its inhabitants given a human presence in this landscape through the emotional ties that bind them together.
If the novel’s heart is the mystery of Maggie’s life before she came to the village, with Cracknell exploring the degree to which one can be forgiven for one’s past by both society and by oneself, she also explores maternal love through the relationship that develops between Maggie and a local schoolboy, Trothan Gilbertson. How this attachment is formed between a child and a mother figure is depicted in both physical and psychological terms; a love for maps connects Maggie with this student and Cracknell uses it to explore the power and beauty of inspiration and passion, and how Trothan’s enthusiasm enhances her own work.
Ultimately, Cracknell’s book offers a profound understanding of the naivety and vulnerability that can exist in both adults and children, and how it can lead people like Maggie and Trothan into circumstances over which they have no control. As the mysteries unfold, Cracknell counsels empathy between individuals and encourages, finally, forgiveness.