Monday, July 8, 2019

"The Missing Years"

Lexie Elliott grew up in Scotland, at the foot of the Highlands. In 1994 she began a Physics degree at University College, Oxford, where she obtained a first; she subsequently obtained a doctorate in Theoretical Physics, also from Oxford University. A keen sportwoman, she represented Oxford every one of her seven years there in either Swimming or Waterpolo, and usually both. Elliott works in fund management in London, where she lives with her husband and two sons. The rest of her time is spent writing, or thinking about writing, and juggling family life and sport.

Elliott applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, The Missing Years, and reported the following:
When I first flicked to page 69 of The Missing Years to re-read it for this article, I was struck by how precisely this particular page captures the key issues facing Ailsa, the main protagonist. Ailsa is giving her half-sister, Carrie, a lift back from the station. It’s clear that the physical landscape she finds herself in—the Scottish Highlands—is unfamiliar and not yet comfortable to her:
There’s no moonlight to be found thus far this evening; Carrie would have needed a torch to navigate this had I not picked her up. The city dweller within me balks at the idea.
The reader might also deduce that the landscape of the relationship between Ailsa and her half-sister is equally unfamiliar:
There’s a caustic tone to Carrie’s words that surprises me. I throw her a quick glance, but I can’t deduce her expression in the darkness of the car interior.
Ailsa is attempting to have her father, who has been missing for a quarter of a century, declared dead; she tells Carrie about her meeting with a lawyer. We see Ailsa’s understatement and reserve as she describes the meeting as “a bit strange”, prompting Carrie to ask:
“How so?”

I shrug. “You know. Talking about my father. I don’t usually do that.” Talking about my father, without really talking about my father. We covered his date of birth, town of birth, occupation, last known abode; the barren facts that in no way construct a person.
Carrie goes on to ask:
“Do you have to, I don’t know, come up with a theory? For what happened to him, I mean?”

“I ...” In front of me hang a hundred, a thousand, a million and more different possibilities. I almost can’t see the road for the myriad of my father’s lives playing out before me, like overlapping cinema screens, all that could have been, might have been, perhaps was, perhaps even is. All of the things I have imagined and all I haven’t yet thought of. If I had to pick one, I might damn all the others. What if I picked the wrong one?
So, all on this one page, we have the looming presence of the isolated landscape Ailsa finds herself in, her uncertain relationship with her half-sister, and the impact of the absence of her father. Of the three, the physical landscape is under-represented on page 69, as this is a novel that is firmly steeped in its setting, and the Manse—the house that Ailsa has inherited, that lives and breathes and exerts its own influence on those around it—isn’t mentioned at all. Scottish mythology is twisted and dark and eerily romantic; it is utterly in keeping with the craggy peaks that stand in judgement over those that live and love beneath them. Like all the tales that have come before it, The Missing Years, with the strange Manse at the heart of a long-unsolved mystery, couldn’t possibly be set anywhere else. If you give it a read, you’ll see what I mean...
Visit Lexie Elliott's website.

--Marshal Zeringue