Cala

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 20 Mar 2019

Member Reviews

Wasn't able to read and review book before it was removed form my e-reader


Cala blends the occult with the modern, following a small community of women living on the outskirts of their Hebridean society, where they have always followed the rigid rules set down by one of their ancestors, a suspected witch. 

Cala, a stone farmhouse on the edge of a village in the Outer Hebrides, is home to four women – witches the locals say – who scratch out a living on its land. But after ten years of relative harmony, fractures are beginning to appear among them. Sick of scavenged seaweed and thin soup, eighteen-year-old Euna decides to go in search of a different way of living.
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This book has an unusual narrative style, which made it hard for me to gauge the setting. Once I realised that this was contemporary fiction and not historical or even dystopian, I struggled with some plot elements- is there no such thing as child protective services in the highlands? What about pre- and post-natal care? I found it strange that the author decided to write a book which deals with migration, forced labour and deportation, and feature a protagonist who knows next to nothing about the events taking place out in the 'real world'. Cala felt like two books to me- the first one is the story of a girl attempting to break away from her strange, controlling family, while the second is a romance between a local girl and a migrant worker. I usually enjoy books about small communes and persuasive cults, but the Cala witches were so secretive I learned next to nothing about them. The people the protagonist meets on her adventures view her nativity as a quirk instead of realising (or perhaps admitting) that she has been abused. Would I, as an adult, feed her alcohol and drugs or try and sleep with her? Absolutely not...which made it hard for me to empathise with the cast of characters who do.  This book reminded me of Gather The Children, another book in which girls are brought up in near-total isolation yet forced to take on very adult roles and responsibilities. This book did not contain enough magic, or enough realism, for me.
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This book is short read that reads like a fairy tale, a very dark scary fairy tale. 
The story and characters are interesting enough, mainly when it came to all the Gaelic culture that was entwined with the story but what I really liked the most was unique way Laura Legge has of telling a story. The way she played with the structure of the story, dialogues and punctuation make me really curious to read whatever she is writing next.
Thank you to NetGalley and Apollo for this ARC.
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This is such an alien book, and a hard one to read coming out of a period of intense dissociation & depersonalisation; it sits a little queasily in my brain, twists sinuously out from between my fingers when I grasp at it. It is a story about a coven of witches, living on an almost barren farm in the Outer Hebrides; it is also a story about isolation, and the ways that love, protection, abuse and silence can be woven into the fabric of the families we are born into, and the families we make for ourselves. It becomes a story about Euna, who leaves, and the things she must confront and the people she comes to trust in in the world beyond the one she's known, the women she gathers around her, the various forms in which she encounters and re-writes womanhood and motherhood. And then it becomes the story of Aram, who comes from a place that he's never known how to find on a map, who has spent years imprisoned and is struggling to reconcile the man he was before with the man he is becoming, who plays out the contradictory, often uncomfortable, impulses of masculinity.

The elliptical histories of the characters, their disjointed, sometimes bizarre, interactions with each other and the places they inhabit, the lurking awareness of dread or anger or trauma or violence that never fully emerges from subtextual shadow, the strange seen-through-glass quality of the narration are all stylistically effective; they recreate the alienated experiences of the characters, they create moments of linguistic beauty by defamiliarising language and the world. 

But I felt like I was drowning. Perhaps I was too sensitive to the ways Legge's writing played on my own sense of unreality and lack of solidity. Perhaps another reader would be better equipped, at least in this moment, to handle the disconnectedness, the deadening and distorting lens through which the reader is forced to experience much of the book - because I think Legge is doing something aesthetically interesting, and conceptually worthwhile, and it's a shame that, even when I felt conscious of the truth of those feelings, I couldn't truly sit with them. I just wanted out, to breathe something fresh and find my way back into my own skin.
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The book's theme -  a coven of witches struggle to get by on a farm in the Outer Hebrides -sounded intriguing. It turned out to be a beautifully told coming-of-age story about the coven's youngest member, Euna, who rebels against the coven's strict rules by sleeping with a local fisherman - a course that ends in her flight and her attempt to survive in the modern world.  I loved the way that the coven was governed and restricted by a book, the ‘Life Grammar’ compiled by an ancestor of the current leader.

I also loved the series of transgressions and changes Euan has to go through, the lyrical telling of the story, the uncanny sense of other worlds ... and an enjoyable absurdity, I was slightly less interested in the second half of the book told mainly through the fisherman, Aram, 

Overall, despite many superb elements to the story, I found it hard to connect to any one person in this complex tale, especially in the second half. These things can be very subjective and I will definitely look out for Laura Legge's next book - this is a wonderful new writer.
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This was a promising debut. I liked the idea of the "coven" of forur women tyring to live independent lives in  the haven of Cala , set apart from the local community.

The turning g point plotwise is when one of the four women, Euna, having started to have mixed feelings about the coven, meets Aram . Aram has been working on the salmon farm. Aram proves to be a catalyst for change in the whole community as he also meets the ministers's daughter Aileen too.

The evocation of the Gaelic way of life on the remote Scottish island is well done.  The author uses lots of Gaelic in the text which gives it authenticity.

The dynamics between the members of the coven is intriguing.

Some readers who have reviews this book found the Aram part of the book less interesting but this section does provide a balance.

The aspects of the book I struggled with were aspects of the plot. For example I thought that the initial encounters between Euna and Aram were short lived but later in the book it talks about Aram missing her singing.

Why call one character Good Muireall and another Bad Muireall ? Was the author trying to emphasise the different "maternal" approaches of both women?

Plotwise its necessary,  but both Aram and Euna seem to be very  lucky in finding people who will take them in so quickly.

Some cultural references also puzzled me. Aram picks up sachets of syrup. I am unsure whether the author means syrup because I have never come across syrup packets whilst living in Scotland.

Aram's "conversion" at Dungavel doesn't seem psychologically convincing to me.

In summary there were glimpses of  what could have been a great book but I found this book unsatisfactory in some aspects.
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The setting & blurb about this book looked very promising. Set on an island in the Outer Hebrides, four women live of what they can scrape from the land. Led by a very unpleasant woman who dictates how the women behave, who they speak to & how they dress. When Euna, one of the younger women meets Arum, a fish farm worker, she is initially looking for food but is fascinated by him. After the Home Office catches up to him & detains him as an illegal immigrant Euna goes in search of him.

The style of this book is quite unique. The lack of speech punctuation was confusing & I often struggled to follow what was going on. I didn't enjoy this as much as I hoped, but I did stick with it because I wanted to find out what happened. This is a book for someone looking for something that bit different. I'll be interested to see where the author goes from here.
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You know those books wherein everything works perfectly within the context of the book but nothing really touches you? Have you ever had that feeling? I am sure you have had it at some point and with this book, I got the same feeling.

The novel starts with the island called Pullhair in Outer Hebrides and it is very, very atmospheric and when you read it, it’s almost as if you are there feeling every weird thing that Euna is feeling and that is one of the major plus points of the book, if I am being honest. Of course, even that didn’t quite work out the way I had hoped for.

Euna hasn’t always lived at Cala, she used to live in the outer world but the outer world didn’t understand her or want her and so she came to Cala. From the time she was seven, Cala is all Euna has known, with its residents loving and hurting at once and its history of it being a witch’s house. Euna has had questions over the years as she grew up but at eighteen, her questions are bursting out of her at any given moment and disturbing the entire household. The fact that this is set in contemporary world should have only enhanced this almost magical way of living but sadly, it really didn’t.

Perhaps I was mistaken into thinking that this story would be very atmospheric from its blurb and in a certain way, it was atmospheric but not in the way presented in the blurb. There’s the question of Euna being the main character. Even though she seems to be, there are other characters given more importance, then to top it off, in between with their personalities changing, it made for a confusing read for me. I fear to even talk about Aileen, I might not end up being favourable at all so, you can read the book to experience that. I wish Aram’s story wasn’t done in the way it was, sure it helped the plot along but that didn’t mean that it was the best course of action.

I did enjoy the fact that one of the major themes of the book was female relationships and how they were presented in a realistic way. These four women did love each other in their own way but there was no shortage of hate or dislike as well, they did spend an awful lot of time together and it showed in their almost there but not quite hate. I think overall, this book is beautifully written but none of that grabbed me or touched me in a way that made me invested in the characters and their journeys.

I am so sorry this review is all over the place (basically a mess) but even after almost a week of finishing it, I am not able to place my thoughts in a good way. I gave this one three stars and they are totally deserved,  I just wish I was able to be more invested in the book.
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I know Cala might not be to everybody’s taste- there are some questionable morals and even more questionable main characters in this book- but nevertheless I really enjoyed it. Set on an island in the remote Scottish Hebrides, Cala follows Euna, a young woman who defies the coven with whom she lives and sets out to find her own destiny. Legge’s prose is dreamy and vague, and reading this book feels rather like seeing the world off-kilter: it’s refreshing, and strange, and watching the relationship dynamics of the characters shift as the book goes on is absolutely fascinating.
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My thanks to Head of Zeus for an e-ARC via NetGalley of Laura Legge’s debut novel, ‘Cala’ in exchange for an honest review.

The women of Cala are introduced in this striking early scene: “The four women of Cala sat in its dining room on the autumn equinox, wearing garlands of ash and hazel, visible to one another only by candlelight.”

‘Cala’ is set in the Outer Hebrides. In the small village of Pullhair, the stone farmhouse that the four women call Cala, haven, is known by the villagers as Gainntir, place of confinement. Legge makes it clear that the novel takes place in the 21st Century yet all modern implements, including electricity, are banned at Cala. The women identify as a coven. 

The leader of the coven is Muireall, who is controlling and manipulative. Their lives are governed by the ‘Life Grammar’, a book compiled by Cairstìne Bruce, an ancestor of Muireall and an alleged witch. It contains two hundred rules for a coven that Cairstìne had always wanted to run. 

One of the younger women, Euna, feels increasingly unsettled. While running an errand to a local fish farm she meets Aram and is strongly attracted to him and vice versa. However, Aram is an illegal immigrant. When he is detained in Dungavel Castle, an immigrant detention facility, Euna stealthy leaves Cala in order to visit him. 

‘Cala’ is written in a very lyrical style and Legge utilises some unconventional techniques such as not using quotation marks to designate dialogue and mixing English, Scottish Gaelic and some dialect. It took a while to get used to this. 

I was quite interested in Euna’s journey of self discovery but was less taken by Part 2 when the narrative focus shifts to Aram. Also, I had hoped for more exploration of the mystical elements of the setting.

So overall I found that my response to the novel was mixed. I admired elements and felt connected to some characters but the whole felt somewhat disappointing.
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Cala has an intriguing premise, and I was initially willing to see where the author would take things.  Mostly atmosphere and not much action, I read the first third and decided to leave it there, as the book was not holding my attention and the writing style wasn't to my taste.  I could see some readers falling hard for this book but unfortunately this one wasn't for me.
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I was really intrigued by the synopsis and enjoyed  the first part of the book but I found the second part dragged and the plot lines where a bit thin. The characters weren’t very likeable which didn’t help.
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There's a lot of adjective I could use to describe this book: fascinating, enthralling, atmospheric, engaging and even entertaining.
It was a really good book, one of the those book you cannot put down once you start it.
I love the well written and fleshed out characters and I loved the atmospheric setting.
The plot was fascinating and it kept me hooked till the end.
I had some minor problems with the style of writing as it made somehow difficult to understand when a character was speaking and there were some slow paced part.
A very good debut, I will surely read other books by this author.
Many thanks to Head of Zeus and Netgalley for this ARC. I voluntarily read and reviewed this book, all opinions are mine.
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‘’The four women of Cala sat in its dining room on the autumn equinox, wearing garlands of ash and hazel, visible to one another only by candlelight.’’

In a farmhouse somewhere in the Outer Hebrides, four women have decided to live in seclusion, shutting out the world that has disappointed them. The villagers regard them as witches and the women do not deny their heritage, supposedly descending from a witch. However, the rules are many and strict in this strange coven and Euna is tired to live in ignorance. There comes a time when the little one must find itself into the wild and Euna decides to discover what lies beyond their stony refuge. This is the background of the strange, attractive and troubling Cala by Laura Legge.

Legge composes a modern tale set in one of the most beautiful places on Earth and focuses on Euna, a young woman who cannot bring herself to follow the 200 rules of the cover any longer. The villagers gaze upon with suspicion and consider them feints like the kelpies of the legends. Leggee is right in placing the focus on Euna, a rebel soul that still retains feelings of love and solidarity for the coven. In a beautiful, mysterious setting, Legge uses references to Verdi’s version of Lady Macbeth and The Little Mermaid as a parallelism of the dangers lurking when women attempt to spread their wings and fly. Despite the threats, we refuse to be chained and the uncertainty that always comes with such choices is excellently depicted in Euna’s questionable choices results of her attempts to discover the world and herself. Her personal course is haunting and raises many points for discussion. However, the novel itself was not without a few significant issues.

Led by the synopsis and the title, I expected a certain tone and atmosphere, a mystical, haunting Scottish aura, darkness and mists. I didn’t find it in this novel. What I read was a (mostly) well-structured story with a clear contemporary setting and a few moments of the haunting Scottish tradition. The fact that my expectations weren’t met wasn’t the writer’s fault and it would be unfair to rate it lower because of my misled perception. What made me subtract a star was the combination of problematic execution, the lack of focus during the second part of the book and the improbability of the storyline exposed in the third part.

Certain parts of the story seemed unnecessary long, especially Aram’s plotline and Aileen’s disgusting presence. There was a problem of coherence in terms of the characters. For example, Euna desires a new life and then seems to forget her purpose. Muirell starts as a truly despicable pseudo-leader and then becomes the mother hen. I wanted Euna as the true main protagonist throughout the novel. The fact that she shared the spotlight with Aram, an interesting character that helped in advancing certain themes but repetitive and unlikable, didn’t help a lot. I wanted to experience the change in Euna and I didn’t get it. And Aileen is a reason not to read this book. Her stupid self was cringe-worthy.

The feature that rescues Cala is the dialogue. The absence of quotation marks is generally fascinating but also extremely tricky. Legge truly excelled here. This style suits the overall story to perfection. The dialogue is a beautiful marriage of Gaelic and English, reflecting the cultural roots of the women and Euna’s inexperience with the world. It takes some time to get used to but it was striking. The themes of prejudice, cultural appropriation, cultural heritage, sexism and sexuality as a means of manipulation and deceit are successfully depicted. 

I felt that Legge tried to include too many themes and lost the focus in certain parts. Despite this issue and the fact that it lacked the atmosphere I expected, it is a very interesting book that will give you many chances for a brilliant discussion and it will stay with you. Laura Legge is definitely a new name to watch in the literary universe.

‘’Like the tawny owls and the weasels and the fallen-acorns, links in the same long chain, a woman could never truly be free.’’

Many thanks to Head of Zeus and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My reviews can also be found on https://theopinionatedreaderblog.wordpress.com
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A really original storyline. Thoroughly enjoyed this book. A very different read from my usual genre of thriller. However this book had plenty of mystery and suspense. At times deeply gripping. A very enjoyable book x
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An unusual little story about a small group (coven) of women living in seclusion on an island in the Outer Hebrides off the coast of Scotland.  The writing style and language take some getting used to but the story is intriguing and worth a little perseverance.
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Cala is a novel which intrigued with its description but fell somewhat short of the mark for me.
Fantasy, magic, female led and blending modern day with age old mysticism - these elements are what this novel is interweaving. All topics that are quite popular now and potentially make for a wonderful story. Legge has identified a type of novel that could do so well with modern readers. However, the novel doesn't quite live up to the sum of its parts. 
I did like Euna as a character in general, and her voyage of discovering herself and the wider world from very unusual circumstances was interesting, but all of the characters together were a bit chaotic. Chaotic also were certain scenes in the novel, where things were happening but I had to read and reread in order to fully make sense of what was unfolding. Set in modern day, I couldn't help but feel that it would have made little difference to the story if it were set fifty years ago, and this may have actually added something more to it if it were. I did enjoy the Garlic elements of it as they add a level of authenticity to the character dialogue. 
Worth reading for its uniqueness.
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Firstly, as this is I believe Laura Legge's debut novel, praise should be given to her for producing something that is a bit different and for a willingness to experiment in her prose, characterisation  and plot lines. All to often now there is an inherent sameness that proliferates much of new fictional work so it was a refreshing change to come across something that had elements of originality and daring about it. There is for instance  the intermingling of Gaelic, English and the Scottish dialect and the absence of speech marks. It may not altogether succeed and there are in my opinion some issues regarding the veracity of the plot at times but the exuberance of the writing makes up for this. Legge has created a world that straddles between the familiar and the unfamiliar where mythology, ritual and the occult are indelibly bound up with the natural world. 

The main location for the novel is a small island called Pullhair situated in the outer Hebrides where living in a stone farmhouse called Cala in isolation and outside of the small island community are four women. The locals call them witches and indeed their subsistence scavenged life style is dominated by obscure rituals . This "coven" is ruled over by the controlling, manipulative and often cruel figure of  Muireall  who is clearly unbalanced. Living with her are ex-lover Grace and two eighteen year old cousins Euna and Lili who have been there some ten years after being abandoned by their families and ostracised by the local community following a church arson attack. How the local authorities would allow two eight year old's to be left in the care of the clearly deranged Muireall is one of the many troubling and bizarre occurrences that we encounter. 

After the increasingly unsettled Euna meets and falls for Aram who is from the local fish farm and it transpires is an illegal immigrant who is subsequently taken to the real life Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre in South Lanarkshire , the scene is set for Euna to leave Cala and seek out a new life with or without Aram.

Ultimately you have the impression of viewing an alternative world and I can see that it may appeal to those who like the fantasy genre. At times gripping, at times baffling and absurd I was never bored and would certainly recommend this to someone who would like to experience something out of the norm.
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I was excited by the storyline and couldn’t wait to start exploring the outer Hebrides and characters within this book. 

However I found this a very difficult book to read and I was put off partially by the lack of speech marks when characters were speaking. It may be quite a minor thing to some but for me it made the text clumsy and confusing. 

The characters lacked depth for me and their actions were at times bizarre. The plot was difficult to follow at times it appeared as though key points had been omitted. 

I’m afraid it was a DNF for me which disappointed me as I felt this could have been s wonderful book. 

ARC copy received through NetGalley.

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2714504110
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For me this was quite an obscure book, in which I could appreciate some decent and well-constructed prose style, and the somewhat plausible development of characters. Compared to the descriptions and blurb that I read prior to delving into the novel, the book was not what I expected. Legge builds an interesting alternate world around the female characters and offers readers some pondering concepts about how we live, sexism and how culture or society may dictate the way we behave. Longings for escape juxtapose well with the continued references to the learned behaviours and rituals the women face day in and day out, thus being the main source of engagement for readers. Perhaps as a lesser fan of the fantasy genre which this seems to lend heavily from, I am somewhat easily dissuaded from the overall success and appeal of this book. it just wasn't what I expected. 

A read, really, for those who appreciate the imagined worlds and oddities of fantasy fiction; think along the lines of Pratchett or Gaiman, with perhaps what we could call a more serious undertone. Overall a well written book, which has purpose and conviction in the world and characters it presents. It just was not what was anticipated.

#Cala #netgalley
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