A nice fantasy, but don’t give up the day job

The first novel by Kirsty Wark, the BBC Newsnight presenter, is surprisingly unambitious ‘women’s fiction’

Sat, May 3, 2014, 01:00


Book Title:
The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle


Kirsty Wark

Two Roads

Guideline Price:

If a novel has a unique selling point, this novel’s must be basic curiosity. What kind of novel has Kirsty Wark written? Wark is the broadcaster who for many years has been a presenter on arguably the most thoughtful and wide-ranging news programme on television, the BBC’s Newsnight. With her rather ingenuous manner she may not be the most heavyweight of its presenters, but we have seen her untangle the knots of international politics and hold her own with prime ministers and sundry personages of all kinds.

Those of us who watch Newsnight, or those arts programmes she also regularly presents, will be curious to know what Wark is like behind the professional facade. Will her book be brainy and probing and incisive, like herself? And what is she interested in besides the issues of the day? The novel will surely tell. Because hardly anything is as revelatory of another’s secret self and how they view the world as the novel they choose to write. It’s one of the reasons among several why we like to read novels.

What Wark has chosen to write is a surprisingly unambitious work. This is a nice and unchallenging novel content to remain within the cosy confines, stylistically and intellectually, of the genre unfairly and wrongly described as women’s fiction, as if this is the only kind that all women want to read or write.

Not being an expert on “women’s fiction”, I can’t say whether The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle is a good or bad example of the genre. What I can say is that it’s certainly an easy read if that’s what you want. That the story will carry you along and the characters are believable and not uninteresting. And that it’s undemanding and should send you to sleep in jig time if this, too, is what you’re after.

The plot is the stuff of fantasy, but a reassuringly down-to-earth and probably common fantasy. A woman in Edinburgh receives a letter from a solicitor to say she has been left a house by a woman she never knew. The house, Homelea, is on the Isle of Arran. Sadly, the legatee, Anna, has early-onset dementia, so it is her thirtysomething daughter, Martha, a journalist, who, having power of attorney, goes to Arran to claim her inheritance.

Martha’s trips to Arran from Edinburgh become voyages of discovery. Who was this mysterious nonagenarian Elizabeth Pringle, who has left her house to a stranger? It’s a lovely house, straight from the pages of property porn. All its period features are, as they say, intact, and all its period contents, china tea sets, nice bed linen and tasteful paintings by well-known Scottish artists in situ. From her house alone we can tell that Miss Pringle was a dream of a woman and that we’re unlikely to be disillusioned.

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