Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on Split.
As many reviewers of this novel can attest, Sharon Bolton is a writer whose legions of fans anticipate each new novel and inevitably crave more. Since this extraordinarily talented writer came on the scene, I have been a devoted follower for her ability to meld character, circumstance and setting into captivating narratives. She breathes life into each landscape, drawing from history and legend, where myths still linger and protagonists are tied to the places they inhabit. Her characters are compelling, often haunted and inscrutable.
Felicity Lloyd is a fascinating but difficult to fathom protagonist, a woman of intelligence and bravery tortured by her nightmares and compulsions yet passionate about the natural world. About to travel from Cambridge to the remote Antarctic island of South Georgia, the glaciologist will be joining a research team on a two-year assignment. Desperate to escape to the farthest place on the earth, she hopes for safety in seclusion.
Unfortunately, recent events have accelerated her terror, a sense of being watched wherever she goes. The interim days before departure are split between preparations and a series of interviews with therapist Joe Grant, assigned to determine Felicity's emotional status after recent frightening incidents Felicity cannot remember. Grant has the authority to release her to join the research team or require more sessions, the power to ruin Felicity's plan entirely in his hands.
Felicity is a troubling character, a dedicated scientist trapped in a psychological nightmare, a past she has difficulty recalling and the security offered by a distant island that will be nearly devoid of humans for two precious years. She is ambivalent about her therapist, starting to trust him but afraid of the power he will have over her if she shares her secrets.
The therapist is another oblique personality, with his own disturbing background and unresolved issues. Working with the homeless--"rough sleepers" who favor nighttime for meetings--Grant struggles with boundaries, over-investment in his patients causing painful complications in treating these denizens of the night. Still recovering from an incident with a violent female patient, Joe is also deeply worried for their precarious welfare as society's castaways, two young women recently murdered in the murky area where his charges feel most comfortable meeting. That Joe's mother is an eccentric detective adds another twist to a plot that feels crowded with personalities dead and alive, like ghosts wandering between worlds, never settled in either sphere.
There is some emotional relief when the setting changes from the urban environment to the remote Antarctic island, but when Dr. Grant, concerned for Felicity's safety, decides to go to the island on the last boat of the season, the horror trails behind him. The change of landscape is exhilarating, nature's cleansing beauty a panacea for the complicated emotions and lingering threats bedeviling both Felicity and Joe, neither able to resolve their certainty of doom. And while the plot temporarily focuses on the current state of the planet, both island newcomers' fears have taken up residence as well, events propelling the characters to a catastrophic conclusion, twists and turns as relentless as the danger traversing the rugged terrain of the island.
Much as this author is a personal favorite, The Split is not. Of course, I will eagerly await Bolton's next title, her impressive catalog of work far outweighing this minor disappointment.