Welcome, friend! Even I haven’t read it that many times! I bet you have some great insights, and I hope you feeling like sharing them anytime you so desire. And that goes for everyone. I love talking about this magical book! Sometimes I wish Maggie had spelled things out a bit more but she did leave clues in the text, which I am hell-bent on finding and puzzling out. It’s a mountain I have to climb.
So. Location first!
- It’s in the Atlantic (“shaking…the Atlantic from their hooves”). When Sean looks at the western horizon, he pictures that somewhere out there is “George Holly’s America.”
- We’ve got Gaeilge words like capaill uisce, and the names of the islanders are primarily Irish (Connolly, Kendrick), with a bit of Scottish (Malvern, Carrick), English (Eaton, Privett) and Scandinavian (Palsson, Skata) sprinkled in.
- It has chalk cliffs.
I’ve often thought that Thisby seemed similar to the Isle of Man. They’ve got Celtic-Anglo influences (and even some Norse connections). What’s more, there’s the Manx legend of the cabyll-ushtey. However, Maggie did say in an interview that she was going for “quasi-Irish or Scottish,” though I’ll never be able to shake the English connection entirely due to the audiobook and her Yorkshire photos.
Now, I’m not satisfied to leave it at “quasi-Irish or Scottish” because I obsess about things. It’s what I do. This brings us to the issue of chalk. The Chalk Group primarily exists in southern and eastern England, but there is one tiny part of Northern Ireland where similar chalk cliffs can also be found: the Antrim coast. I see Thisby as being somewhere off the coast of Northern Island, betwixt the Atlantic and the North Channel of the Irish Sea, which would account for cultural influences, geography, and geology. The closest real-world equivalent I’ve found is Rathlin Island, which just happens to boast chalk cliffs, sea caves, ferries, and a connection to St. Columba. Too bad it’s home to 100 and not 4,000 people.
And now the time period!
I’ve written a little about fashion, cars, wars, and attitudes here, but I’ll always have more thoughts on the matter. Right now I want to focus on this quote:
- “I had been to the mainland once with my father, for one of the races there. It was vests and flat caps and bowlers and canes…and wives who looked like dolls.”
Bowler hats found their peak popularity between the mid 1800s and the 1930s. The “wives who looked like dolls” bit is interesting, because the elaborate clothes of the Edwardian period and the 1910s looked ever so doll-like and women’s fashion had seriously relaxed by the 1920s.
This makes me think that this event happened pre-1920s, and as it is before Mr. Kendrick died, Sean can be no older than 10 years old. Flash forward to Thomas Gratton and “his big sheep truck, a Bedford whose headlights and grille make it look like Finn when he’s making his frog face.” The first Bedford was produced in 1931. So, supposing the book takes place in the early 1930s, the timing works out perfectly for Sean to have visited the mainland as a young child in the late 1910s.
This timing also works with the reporter’s question about Puck being inspired by the women’s suffrage movement. Women in Northern Ireland, along with the rest of the UK, didn’t get the unqualified vote until 1928. I can’t really see the reporter saying anything like that any later than the 1930s; soon after, the term “feminism” became more common and then we get into WWII where the landscape of women’s rights changes once again.
So, all that to say, I imagine Thisby is located off the coast of Northern Ireland and that the story takes place in the early 1930s. I might set it slightly earlier if it weren’t for that truck!
A hundred November cakes to anyone who was able to sit through my rambling essay! A hundred more if you’ll tell me your theories!
GENIUS. ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT. I HAD IT PINNED NEAR IRELAND (in fact, have used Google Earth to hunt out possible islands) and before the 1940s, glad someone worked it out so precisely however. :D
I’m always curious to find out when and where people think it’s set because it’s not spelled out in the book. I could be completely misreading the clues, but I’m glad my theories are making sense to people! :)
- A.) Be born and bred on Thisby. And die there, too. Most likely sooner rather than later.
- B.) Spend a pretty penny and visit once a year as a tourist from the mainland.
- C.) Come from the mainland and end up staying after some sort of spiritual conversion in the waters near Skarmouth (you may have to give up your lovely red car).
- D.) Escape to the mainland as soon as you can and promise to visit your wretched relatives on Thisby at Easter (probably you won’t).
A. Definitely A. I am homesick for a place I have not ever seen.
Thisby is proud to call you one of her own!