2022 Reading Review: “O Caledonia”

O Caledonia. It feels like something I would sigh while staring out the window on a rainy day. And somehow the book feels that way too. Though, looking out my window, it’s Glasgow and not the Highlands, so a bit of a different view.

I don’t quite have words to describe this book. It sort of feels like Wuthering Heights, in that gothic, ethereal feel, but without any romance. Do not come to this book looking for romance. If anything, our protagonist feels asexual throughout most of the book.

But it is a gothic tale that reads and feels like a classic Victorian novel. Set primarily in the Highlands of Scotland, there is a delicate beauty about it. Let’s see what I can tell you about this book.

Spoilers ahead: light in the Story, Characters, Writing, and Will You Like This sections, but probably heavier in the Opinions section. I’ll give you another heads-up about it there.

Story

We follow the life of a young girl, Janet, who dies at age 16. This may seem like a spoiler, but it was written in the blurb on the back of the book. And, as the blurb goes on to say, this is not a who-dun-it murder-mystery. It’s a story about growing up, not fitting in with family or friends, and the uncomfortable realities of adolescence.

So, we meet young Janet and her family moving into their new home in the Highlands of Scotland. The book spans their lives here and Janet’s time away at boarding school. Our main focus as readers is Janet and her own inner world. Essentially, it’s almost Janet’s biography up until her death at age 16.

Characters

Our main character is, of course, Janet. We see her life and story told through this book. She’s quite bookish and introverted, lacking a lot of typical desires of young girls. Her mother would love her to be more girly, but Janet prefers the outdoors and her books. She loves language and words. In many ways, Janet also sees herself as very different from others and doesn’t communicate well with anyone her age. Moreover, for most of the book, she’s not interested in romance either.

There are a handful of other characters who make appearances: her parents, siblings, estranged aunt who lives with them, housekeepers in their home, and even classmates. But really the book focuses specifically on Janet and the way she views and interacts with the world.

Writing

Earlier, I compared this book to Wuthering Heights. This is not due to subject matter, but rather the style of writing. It feels very much like a classic Victorian novel. There are great descriptions of nature and scenery. Janet’s inner world is also described in ways that are relatable, to those who equally loved being lost in words and books. There is a melancholy feel to the entire piece. In some ways, it is beautifully written.

Will You Like This?

Do you enjoy classic literature, especially that which has a Victorian feel?
Do you likes book that tell a person’s life story, their inner lives and visions, their struggles and motivations?
Are you looking for books that share visions and scenes of the Highlands of Scotland?

O Caledonia may be a good read for you then!

Opinion (Spoilers)

This book was a bit of a struggle for me. I started it November 2021 and got midway through it, but really drove myself to get there. I didn’t pick it up again until February 2022, simply because I wanted to complete it.

Growing up, I enjoyed reading the works of various Victorian authors, so a book that seemed to have a similar feel set in Scotland seemed right up my alley. It could be that my taste in classical literature has changed, or it could just be this book.

There were a lot of times where I empathized with Janet and her awkwardness. I was an awkward, quiet girl myself. And her discomfort as she went through the changes of puberty and adolescence were equally relatable. Honestly, there were plenty of times I felt a kinship with Janet.

Yet then there were other times where I felt she came across as very arrogant. But—then again—she was a young girl, starting to go through adolescence, and I understand the struggles that come with that.

I was back and forth with her as a character. And that made reading difficult sometimes, as the book is just about her and her life.

I won’t discourage anyone from reading it. Sometimes, a book comes to us at the wrong time, so I may re-read this again at some point and find I connect better to it. But I won’t be doing a re-read any time soon.

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