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Billie's kiss / Elizabeth Knox.

By: Knox, Elizabeth.
Material type: materialTypeLabelBookPublisher: Wellington [N.Z.] : Victoria University Press, 2002Description: 319 pages ; 22 cm.Content type: text Media type: unmediated Carrier type: volumeISBN: 9780864734266.Subject(s): New Zealand fiction -- 21st century | Marine accidents -- Fiction | Marine accidents -- Scotland -- Fiction | Islands -- Scotland -- Fiction | Women -- Scotland -- Fiction | Hebrides (Scotland) -- Fiction | New Zealand -- Fiction | Scotland -- FictionGenre/Form: New Zealand fiction -- 21st century. | Romance fiction. | Detective and mystery fiction.DDC classification: NZ823.2 Awards: Montana New Zealand Book Awards 2002 Fiction Runner-Up.Summary: One of the few survivors after a ship explodes while docking on the island of Kissack/Skilling, Billie Paxton is looked on with suspicion from the island inhabitants as she was seen to jump from the ship just before it exploded. However, the islanders have other worries of their own.
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Enhanced descriptions from Syndetics:

Historical novel set in the remote, divided Scottish island of Kissack and Skilling, one half of which looks historically and geographically towards Catholic Ireland, the other towards the Protestant north and Scandinavia. The novel combines an Edwardian mystery with a love story. Elizabeth Knox won the Deutz Medal for Fiction in the 1999 Montana New Zealand Book awards for The Vintner's Luck.

New Zealand author.

One of the few survivors after a ship explodes while docking on the island of Kissack/Skilling, Billie Paxton is looked on with suspicion from the island inhabitants as she was seen to jump from the ship just before it exploded. However, the islanders have other worries of their own.

Montana New Zealand Book Awards 2002 Fiction Runner-Up.

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Excerpt provided by Syndetics

The Gustav Edda The crossing was rough, and Edith unwell. Billie couldn't read, so she sang to her sister. Edith kept her eyes closed and her face turned into the pillow. Billie saw sweat beaded beneath the reddish down on her sister's cheek, the down that had grown gradually darker, from cheekbone to jawline, as Edith came nearer her time. It seemed to Billie that her sister was turning into another kind of creature, with furred skin and an extra layer of soft fat on her arms, her midriff firmly tight, not laced and nipped, as it had been, but convex. Even Edith's hair had changed, now so luxuriant that her unpinned plaits were as thick as Billie's forearms. But these changes weren't Edith's whole alteration, and as Billie sang to her sister she kept her right hand against Edith's belly, between belly and supporting pillow, to feel the other thing, the motion, strong and irregular, and as invisible as the ocean. The flame was fairly steady in the binnacle lamp on the ceiling of the cabin, for the lamp itself rocked on its gimbals, moved in counterpoint to the heaving ship. All the room's shadows tilted this way and that, as, no doubt, any person on deck at that time would have done. Beneath Billie's hand and her sister's skin the baby seethed. Billie paused between verses to whisper to herself: "Let the cat out of the bag." It was an expression she'd always liked. Of course they weren't fully ready for the baby--they: Edith, Henry, Billie--and cats out of bags meant trouble. But, as a child, whenever her father had turned to her, his index finger barring his mouth before he whispered, "Don't let the cat out of the bag," Billie would imagine the cat--the abducted feline--on the sill of an open window, fur upstanding, haloed in darkness, framed against a garden, and looking back with eyes like embers. Edith squeezed Billie's arm and gasped. "Why did we have to go on today?" Edith had been content to travel by train, but balked at the idea of a sea voyage. So her husband, Henry Maslen, planned a journey that used the Inner Isles as stepping-stones, and ferries that crossed at all the narrowest places. In Henry's plan they were to cross from Dorve, in the Inner Isles, on a steamer small enough to navigate the crooked way among the reefs that lay between Dorve and Southport, on the southeast coast of an island called Kissack and Skilling. Dorve to Southport was a short, fair-weather journey. From Southport it was only a day's travel north to their ultimate destination, Stolnsay, Kissack and Skilling's only sizable town. But when Edith and Henry Maslen, and Edith's sister Billie, arrived in Dorve, it was to a harbor whipped up by wind and a reef not to be chanced. Not for several days, they were told. It was suggested that, if Mr. Maslen liked, he could take his family overland to the port of Luag, where they would coincide with the arrival of the Gustav Edda. The Gustav Edda was a big, Swedish-owned steamer that passed through the islands every month on a circuit that began and ended in Stockholm. Henry Maslen had hesitated before rushing off to catch the bigger ship. He hesitated and his sister-in-law watched him hide his worry and his calculations, watched his lips move against the heel of the hand with which he screened his mouth. Then Henry dropped his hand. He looked at his sister-in-law. "Billie, you and Edith could keep our room here and follow me when the weather's calmer. But . . ." But they were short of funds, and he wanted to have his wife settled before the baby came. Its arrival was imminent. Henry's new employment had come at exactly the right time, but the journey hadn't. Mr. Johan Gutthorm, who, in his own words, handled Lord Hallowhulme's "indoor business affairs," advised Henry to come before summer. Since Mr. Maslen meant to bring his wife and her sister it was, Gutthorm wrote, "better by far to make the most of the best of our weather." Henry had read Johan Gutthorm's letter to Billie and Edith as they sat in the tiny parlor of their cottage in Crickhowell. Edith said, "We should all go at once. We're very crowded here." They were--spring damp breaking in on them, making black stars of mildew on the paintwork around the windows--crowded out by Edith's belly, Henry's books, and Billie's upright piano, and by a tortuous cyclonic current of feeling that could neither be borne nor gone with. That afternoon in Crickhowell, Henry had agreed with his wife. He repeated his salary offer, pounds and shillings, but warned that there was no guarantee that they wouldn't find themselves again crowded at Kiss Castle in Stolnsay. Henry looked at her then--Billie--but his eyes said: "Edith." He could say her sister's name without moving his lips. Henry appeared sad. The flaring ends of his fair muttonchop whiskers--minus moustache--were shaved to terminate exactly parallel to the lines beside his mouth: two defined lines that always made his face seem sober, his mouth bracketed, braced, and disciplined. What had he been looking for in looking at her, Billie wondered, encouragement or warning? The ship pitched and tossed, and Billie sang to her sister: hymns, love ballads, a comic song from the music hall. The ship yawed and the swinging light chased the shadows into a corner of Edith's bunk, where they concentrated into such thickness Billie expected to see them coalesce, leaving something solid sitting there. Edith rolled over, showed a whole perspiring face, and asked, "Why do you say that? 'Cat out of the bag'?" "I was thinking of the baby." Billie stroked her sister's abdomen. "Honestly, Billie. Why would a baby bring to mind a cat in a bag? People put cats in bags only to drown them." Edith's lower lip trembled, then she said she was sorry, she hadn't meant to be sharp. Could Billie go up on deck and see how near they were to that headland the captain had explained would afford some shelter from the north? The ship surely couldn't still be out on the open water. "And send Henry down," Edith said. "And take the bucket out and empty it. Please, dear." Billie got up. She said that she'd heard that the saying was nautical, or naval anyway, the "cat" was a lash. Then she had to swing the zinc pail back at her sister's urgent signal. Edith's mouth filled, and she leaned over and spat out another gob of ropey bile. The wet rag with which Billie had been wiping her sister's face was already in the bucket, so Billie turned up her dress hem and found the scalloped cotton edge of her petticoat. She wiped Edith's mouth. "I don't like to leave you." Edith said, weakly, that Billie could give her some hope. "See where we are," she said again. "But leave Henry up in the fresh air if he's ill." Billie wrapped her shawl around her head and carried the pail from the cabin. She crept along the passage, her free hand braced against the wall. By the hatch an oblong light skated about, probing the darkness, sliced by the rungs of the ladder, whose own shadow surged so wildly that it seemed dangerous to climb. Billie went up, one rung at a time. She didn't dare put the pail down above her. The sea was higher than it had been, and its waves were streaky, but the wind was now only stiff. Last night's gale had passed. Billie steadied herself, took hold of a shroud. The hemp thrummed in her palm as the wind drew its long, smooth bow across the few ropes and cables on the steamer. It made a mournful sound, and seemed to be missing something. The wind shoved the stack smoke down, so that several hot smuts hit Billie's cheeks--like snow in Hell. Billie thought of another phrase and imagined the coalesced shadow from the corner of Edith's bunk, a black cat, step out of its jute bag and onto the black ice of a Hell frozen over. Billie shook her head. Henry was at the rail, his back to a group of well-dressed gentlemen--two youths and two men. One of the men was just putting his pipe back in his pocket with the air of one who has tried and failed at something--igniting it, probably. The boys were in the uniform of a military academy, their greatcoats gray and piped with black, the facings of their collars crimson. They wore their scarves high, halving their faces, and their caps pulled low. The second man wore a long astrakhan coat, its blurrily black sable collar turned up around his ears. He held the collar in place with one black-gloved hand. His head was bare, and his thick, phosphorescently pale hair blew forward. Billie passed the huddled group, nodded to them, cordial. She didn't catch any eyes. She felt a little self-conscious seeing them so uncomfortable, for this party had formerly occupied the cabin in which Edith was now lying. It was the first of June, and in summer the journey from Luag to Stolnsay took around ten hours and was undertaken from midnight till morning. The Gustav Edda had come on from bigger mainland ports, and there were no cabins empty for its outermost journey. When Henry and his hugely pregnant wife had presented themselves unexpectedly at the quay at Luag the captain of the steamer had Henry write several letters petitioning "the gentlemen" who had the ship's four cabins. Three were friends, with a cabin each, and the captain imagined they might be content to bunk together. Yet it was the letter carried to a hotel adjacent the harbor that was the only one answered. "Dear Sir," Henry read. "My party is happy to oblige yours. I wish you, and your wife, as comfortable a crossing as can be hoped for in a northerly gale in the bight. Yours etc. MH." "Mr. Hesketh," the captain said. "A cousin of Lord Hallowhulme. Hesketh was an officer in King Oskar's household cavalry. Now he sees things done for Lord Hallowhulme. There's no love lost between Hesketh and the islanders. Lord Hallowhulme is full of plans, and they say he's a good-natured fellow, that his heart's in the right place, but his cousin is the one who keeps the plans in motion whenever they stick." Now, although they were on deck together, Henry had his back to the obliging Mr. Hesketh and party. Henry was stooped over the rail, but when Billie stopped beside him she saw he wasn't unwell, but was hiding, shy. From the Hardcover edition. Excerpted from Billie's Kiss by Elizabeth Knox All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Reviews provided by Syndetics

Publishers Weekly Review

New Zealander Knox (The Vintner's Luck; Black Oxen) cleverly explores the many meanings of the word "kiss" in this haunting romantic mystery set in 1903. Billie Paxton, an uneducated but perspicacious young woman, thinks the worst is over after a rough voyage on the Gustav Edda, a Swedish steamer that has taken her to the outer Scottish island of Kissack and Skilling, along with her pregnant sister, Edith, and her brother-in-law, Henry Maslen, a tutor who has accepted a position with the local squire, Lord Hallowhulme, at Kiss Castle. But just as the Gustav Edda is docking in port, an explosion shatters the hull, leaving Edith dead and Henry injured. An excellent swimmer, Billie immediately jumps off the stricken ship and scrambles to shore, witnessed by Lord Hallowhulme's cousin, Murdo Hesketh. One of the few other passengers to survive the catastrophe, Murdo wonders how Billie came to be so ready to leap off the doomed boat. On Kissack and Skilling, the intricately interwoven lives of a host of islanders, particularly the inhabitants of Kiss Castle, give Billie plenty to ponder. Meanwhile, Murdo pursues Billie as both suspect and object of desire. When Murdo claims it was "just a kiss" after finally succeeding in kissing the breathless Billie, it turns out to be much more than that. The novel's promotion invokes the names of Emily Bront and Jane Austen; aficionados of those classic authors shouldn't get their hopes too high, but many romance fiction fans should be well satisfied. (Mar. 1) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

Set in Scotland in 1903, Knox's novel begins with an explosion--literally. Billie Paxton is traveling with her pregnant sister, Edith, and Edith's husband, Henry, to Stolnsay, where Henry is to be employed by Lord Hallowhulme as a secretary. After Billie shares an impulsive kiss with Henry on the deck of the ship on which they are traveling, she leaps into the sea. Immediately after she jumps, a bomb goes off, and the ship sinks, killing many of the passengers, including Edith. Lord Hallowhulme takes both Billie and Henry in. Lord Hallowhulme's cousin, the handsome, standoffish Murdo Hesketh, was also aboard the ship and is determined to discover the cause of the explosion. At first, he suspects Billie, leading to animosity between the two but also the rise of an undeniable attraction. Murdo doggedly pursues the mystery of the bomb until he comes to a conclusion that surprises even him. Knox's third novel is both ambitious and accomplished, vividly evoking turn-of-the-century Scotland. Her characters are unique and yet somehow familiar, in the sense that they are reminiscent of famous characters in Victorian literature. Filled with rich language and buoyed by a compelling story, this novel should have a wide appeal. --Kristine Huntley

Kirkus Book Review

New Zealander Knox, an energetic magical-realist with a vibrant comic imagination, scores strongly again with this densely plotted tale of a waiflike shipwreck survivor's bizarre life and loves. In 1903, the Gustav Edda, en route to the twin Scottish islands of Kissack and Skilling, unaccountably "explodes" upon reaching port, killing most of its crew and passengers. An exception is 20-year-old Wilhelmina "Billie" Paxton, who had jumped into the water seconds before the catastrophe. The reader knows why, but fellow survivor Murdo Hesketh does not-and he soon undertakes to discover why Billie had committed "sabotage." The progress of this central plot strand is interrupted, and complicated, by the parallel "investigation" performed by a butler named (Geordie) Betler, who travels to the islands' primary settlement, Stolsnay, to learn about the disaster that had claimed the life of his younger brother. As Knox subtly reveals the connections among Billie's inchoate maturity (she's mildly retarded: a kind of Dostoevskyan "innocent"), savant-like musical gift, and constantly changing relationship with the driven Murdo, she also layers in increasingly crucial information about the ambitious plans contrived by Murdo's wealthy cousin Lord Hallowhulme (the de facto "lord" of this kingdom), a murder buried in Stolsnay's past, Sir Francis Galton's theory of eugenics and the minutiae of "pisciculture," and the plays of George Bernard Shaw and Shakespeare. This arguably overcrowded melodrama (which echoes the replete symbolic novels of both Patrick White and John Cowper Powys) alternately frustrates and fascinates, but Knox somehow pulls most of its unruly parts together, rewarding the bedazzled reader with a stunning climactic confrontation between Murdo and the Prospero-like Lord Hallowhulme, and a deus ex machina topper that the late Richard Condon might have concocted. Knox's wild and wooly fictions (Black Oxen, 2001, etc.) aren't for everybody, but if minimalism doesn't satisfy your appetite for narrative, she may just be the writer for you.