....The Inn at the Edge of the World by Alice Thomas Ellis.
Alice Thomas Ellis died just a month or so ago. I had never heard of her, or any of her books. So, on a trip to my favorite place, Half Price Books, I looked for some of her works, and came home with three. The Inn at the Edge of the World was the first one I tried.
Eric, an innkeeper at an inn in Scotland, decides to try to build traffic in his "hanging on by a thread" inn by advertising for people who want to forget Christmas and come someplace where they can just ignore the whole thing.
Five people reply and come: Harry, an older, retired military gentleman who has lost his wife and son, and who is busy writing a history of "Chinese" Gordon; Jessica, a semi famous actress and voice-over star; Ronald, a psychoanalyst who has been abandoned by his wife; Anita, a mid-level manager in a shop, who wants a more fulfilling life; and Jon, a bit part actor who is basically stalking Jessica. How the relationships between these people form and break down, and whether they can see any way out of their sad lives is the point of the book.
But there is more than that. The inn is at the edge of the world in a way different from just being physically remote. It is also a place where the reality of this world and the reality of another world brush against one another, and manage to mix together a little bit. The selkies--the seal people--are a presence. And the dead are much closer than folks imagine.
The story doesn't end in a conventional way. Most of the people go on with their lives, untouched and unchanged. More than that, UNABLE to change the things that have made them isolated and alone. Unwilling to look beyond, wrapped up in the desires and conventions of this life, they are unable to learn a different way and so break out of their ruts. Not a traditional happy ending to be sure. But it's not a traditional unhappy ending either.