The House Between Tides Book Discussion and Recipe
Two women are connected by the . One lived there a hundred years ago, Beatrice, and married the owner, Theo Blake, a moody painter of birds, who often destroyed what he most treasured. The other, Hetty, is to inherit Muirlan house, and seeking to renovate it into a hotel, finds a very old corpse beneath the floorboards. Hetty wishes to piece together her family’s forgotten history, the mystery of the woman beneath the floorboards, and the sudden dark period of Theo Blake’s paintings which she found at an art auction. With gorgeous Scottish landscape descriptions, this is a story about forbidden love, poignant art, and the connection between all those who live and work on the island with the mansion between tides. House Between Tides
Hetty’s parents had died in a tragic accident, and the loss “the surge of grief...a sense of being adrift that had stalked her ever since her parents’ death...even now, three years later, the thought of it could still overpower her.” Why is that? How long does it take for that to go away, or does it ever? How did that loss connect her to Beatrice, and what losses had Beatrice suffered?
Some of the descriptions of Scotland and the House on the Strand are terrifying, with raging storms, and some breathtaking, “as the hills of Skye faded over the churning wake of the ferry...the margins of sky sea, and land merged into a blue-grey wash, but...the sun had backlit the clouds with a mother-of-pearl sheen, and slowly burned through the veil, revealing the low contours of the islands in a glorious welcome.” How could one place go from gray, to breathtaking, to terrifying? Are many places in the world this way, including where you live? Do many of us merely miss it by being indoors most of the time?
What makes “mysterious recluses” like Theo Blake so fascinating? Would they be if they were poor, and couldn’t indulge their whims and eccentricities as he did, since he wasn’t “troubled by making a living”? Which painting of his was Beatrice’s favorite, and which could Hettie not bear to lose at an auction? Why?
Why did closing up Muirlan House “have a bigger impact around here than the end of the war”? Did it have something to do with the isolation of the people on the island?
James and the other locals knew Hetty's dream to fix up Muirlan house and turn it into a hotel was extremely unwise. He told her that “we all need dreams, but even dreams need foundations.” What foundation did this dream of hers not have to make it successful?
Why was Torrann Bay the “very essence of the island, its elemental spirit” for Theo-was there more than one reason? Did it become so for his wife, Beatrice, as well? Why?
Why was Theo so enraptured with Maili? Do you think she always shared the same passion for him? Why did things end that way between them? Why was Theo never able to let her go?
How did Giles and Hettie’s relationship begin, and what kept it going for so long? What are the parallels between their relationship, and Theo and Beatrice’s? What other relationships did Beatrice and Hetty have in common?
What was the power of the sea in affecting the lives of those who lived at or near Muirlan house? How did it “set its own rules, marooning and releasing the island twice a day, following its own irregular rhythm” ?
- What role do birds play in the novel, not just as subjects for Theo’s paintings and book, but also as a symbol of Cameron’s frustrations with Theo, and Beatrice’s desires versus Theo’s entitlements?
Apple Pie Spice Cupcakes with Apple Pie Spice Frosting
In the book, apples and apple pie appear frequently in the book. Una served apple pie to Hetty when she went to Ruiaridh and Una’s house for dinner one night, where Hetty learned much about her ancestor’s dark history and the conflict between him and the locals. An apple was also a snack Hetty was eating when she discovered Theo’s headstone, and those of John Forbes, Maili, their infant son, and John Cameron.
Apple Pie Spice Cupcakes with Apple Pie Spice Frosting
- 1 1/2 cup (3 sticks) salted butter, softened to room temperature
- 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed down
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 cup (4 oz) plain greek yogurt
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract, divided
- 3 tsp, plus 2 1/4 tsp apple pie spice, divided, (I made homemade apple pie spice - see below for recipe)
- 1 large Fuji apple, diced small
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 4 Tbsp milk
- Begin by making your apple pie spice and setting it aside in a little bowl. I prefer to make my own because most spice mixes have too dominant of a ginger flavor, which often drowns out all but the cinnamon. You can purchase your own if you’d prefer, or season your spice to your tastes. The one I made was a big hit with friends and coworkers! To make Apple Pie Spice, combine: 2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp cardamom, 1/2 tsp allspice, 1/8 tsp ginger.
- Preheat your oven to 350° F, and cream together one stick of softened butter and the brown and white sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed. Dice up a large apple into a small dice and set aside. To the sugar, add the eggs, one at a time, then one tsp of vanilla extract and Greek yogurt (or substitute sour cream). Scrape down the inside of the mixing bowl if needed.
- Drop the speed to medium low and add the baking powder, baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon of the apple pie spice, and half the flour. Allow to combine, then add the rest of the flour. Scrape down the inside of the bowl again to make sure all of the batter is fully combined. When it is, using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the diced apples. Scoop into greased and floured muffin tins or cupcake liners, and bake for 16-18 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick (into the center of a cupcake) comes out with crumbs, not any raw batter. Allow to cool on a wire rack at least ten minutes, then frost.
- To make the frosting, beat two sticks of butter on medium speed in a stand mixer for one minute. Then add, alternatively as they combine fully, two cups of powdered sugar, 1 tsp of vanilla extract, one cup of powdered sugar, 4 tablespoons of milk, one cup of powdered sugar, and 2 1/4 teaspoons of apple pie spice. Stop at any time the ingredients are climbing up the bowl instead of mixing together. Use a spatula to scrape down the insides of the bowl and bring the frosting ingredients back down into the center to combine. Pipe onto cooled cupcakes using a rose tip, and top with apples for garnish. I caramelized a few with some butter and brown sugar in a pan.
Apple Pie Spice Cupcakes
The Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford is another story of two people who once inhabited the same house. One is a woman who finds mermaid bones under the house to be renovated. One is a man, a Reverend obsessed with tales of selkies who is forced under the thumb of a new leader, and who must face deep questions about what he really believes in.
The Forgotten Garden or The House at Riverton by Kate Morton are both tales of the past being uncovered. The first is a girl who, on her 21st birthday, is told by her adopted parents where she really comes from. The second is a struggle of the classes, and the final true telling of the tragedy that happened at the great house, Riverton, by one of its maids, who was as close to the Lady of the house as a maid could be.
The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova is about an artist who snaps and attacks a painting at the National Gallery of Art. A psychiatrist takes on his case, and must dig deeply into all he knows about art and psychology to research this man, obsessed with a woman in a painting enough to drive him to madness.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is one of the first gothic fiction tales, of a house with a dark secret near the sea in Cornwall. A young girl leaves a boring traveling companion’s life to marry the wealthy, brooding Maxim de Winter who became a widower not quite a year ago. His secret torments are left to be discovered by his nameless new bride, a poor girl who has risen the ranks to the upper class, and is struggling to find her place there, or alongside a husband she barely knows. The House on the Strand is another of du Maurier’s novels with similar setting and themes to The House Between Tides.
© 2016 Amanda Leitch