The start's rather strange-
|I met him in sister's garden in Enniskerry. That is where I saw him first. There was nothing fated about it, though I add in the late summer light and the view. I put him at the bottom of my sister's garden, in the afternoon, at the moment the day begins to turn. Half five maybe. It is half past five on a Wicklow summer Sunday when I see Sean for the first time. There he is, where the end of my sister's garden becomes uncertain..|
The narrator, Gina, is telling us about her marriage with Conor and affair with Sean (father of Evie), self-consciously telling a story -"And I can't, for the life of me, recall what Evie looked like that day" (p.10), "Let's start with Conor. Conor is easy" (p.11). She claims she might have begun to fall in love with Sean in any of a few occasions - maybe at first sight. The onset of her mother's depression is equally unclear.
Chapter heading are phrases from song lyrics. The "Sunny Afternoon" chapter is backstory. Gradually I became more impressed. The novel manages to convey one person's obsession for another without being tedious, partly because the language remains lively -
And the anger that came with this was terrible; the pure annoyance of smashing my way out of one box, only to find myself in another one.|
There is nothing like a bit of drama on an empty coastline, the shrill little screams and foot stampings entertainment for the gulls, tinnitus for the fishes. There is nothing so pointless and refreshing: a sad backside hitting a million affronted grains of sand, the faint ticking, in the rocks, of footsteps walking away.
Conor went back to the car and left me to it (p.73)
there she was, in a perfect little kilt and, my goodness, black patent leather shoes|
Then Aileen was in the hall, all mock bustle and precision. (p.80)
|In my absence, the party had shifted up a gear. You can never catch the moment when it happens, but it always does: that split second when awkwardness flowers into intimacy. This is my favourite time. (p.88)|
|There is something so open about a hotel bed, the duvet kicked away; it was like a plinth, or a padded stage, and the shapes we made there were more sweet and anguished for seeming abstract (p.98)|
|The walls were hung with paintings done to match the carpet; an increasingly sickening series of abstracts in cream and maroon that looked like they came out of the same two pots of paint (p.108)|
The death of the narrator's mother is dealt with well
|The first I heard was a phone call from the duty nurse at ten o'clock that night, explaining that our moth had been taken to the hospital , and perhaps I would like to come in. I mean, the woman was dead, she was effectively dead, but this must be what they say to relatives in such circumstances. And I knew this and did not know it, at the same time. (p.114)|
After, the narrator's affair is discovered. People keep saying they knew all along, or at least that they're not surprised. She begins to live in her mother's house (which is where she grew up - it's been empty for a while, attracting no buyers). Her married lover stays most nights, returning "home" for breakfast. I like the writing in this part of the book - part II.
|Sean was in Enniskerry doing Santa Claus for a child who no longer believed in Santa Claus. Aileen was serving a light fino before lunch. I was alone. And the person I missed was my sister, the woman who was glad - as she said, glad - our mother was dead, so she wouldn't have to witness the way I was carrying on. She was wrong about that, by the way. My mother would have understood. My mother with her handsome, infuriating husband; she would have kissed the top of my sad head (p.173)|
Time stands still -
Sean in in my sister's garden in Enniskerry, with his back to me and his face to the view ...|
Sean stands at the window in his pyjamas, with the frost flowering across the window. Or he stands at the window in the summer light and his naked back is a puzzle of muscle and bone - he still look like a young man, from behind - and I want to whisper, Turn around.
Or, Don't turn around.
The weeks I spent waiting for his call, the months I spent waiting for him to leave Aileen. The loneliness of it was, in its own way, fantastic (p.180)
The problem is that Sean doesn't want to leave his daughter. The narrator recounts the daughter's first fit in detail, as if she'd been there, because it matters so much to her. She imagines the hospital scenes - "Each sick, or even dying, child - beautiful as a flower - seemed to be attached to some unwashed parent, who slept on the floor" (p.196). The anti-epilepsy drugs they tried had side-effects. Aileen's anxiety doesn't help. "there is something in Evie's story that Sean is constantly trying to understand. Something about himself, perhaps" (p.200). But Gina struggles with the story too. Working out dates she realises that his affairs weren't triggered by the events he claimed. "He loves me now. Or he loves me too./ Or./ I love him. And that is as much as any of us can know."
Aileen chucks Sean out when she thinks that his double-life is affecting Evie. Later, Evie stays with Gina and Sean some nights. Gina is jealous of Evie and Sean's closeness, but at the end Gina and Evie have a girlie trip to the shops, try on make-up, have a coffee, talk about the man they share. Things might just work out.
"'What's "Gina" short for?' 'Nothing'" (p.229), and indeed, Gina struggles a little with self-image. Her father died when she was a child, and her relationships with men aren't ideal. She can hold conflicting views about love and death simultaneously, flipping between opposites.
- Hermione Lee (Guardian)
- Edmund Gordon (Telegraph) (Hers is a style that glories in minutiae. She modulates so finely between comedy and pathos, between psychology and physicality, that she conveys a sense of the richness of lived experience, compared to which most other novelists appear to work in broad strokes. There are sentences in her work, whole passages even, that you want to mark up and learn off by heart for their warmth and humour, their sense of truth. ... The novel’s only significant shortcoming is its lack of narrative tension)
- Francine Prose (New York Times)
- Emma Hagestadt (Independent)