Well, I have to start this review by saying that this book managed to surprise me. This story turned out to be not at all what I thought it would be when I first started the book. While I did get the love story I was expecting, I also found an awful lot more in this book. And although I did find myself reading the last few pages of this book with tears in my eyes, I couldn’t help being pleasantly surprised by the rather unexpected way this story concluded.
While this is indeed a love story, it is not a traditional one. Our hero, Bruno is fifty years old, has two failed marriages behind him and has recently lost his job. Unable to face the upcoming elections – Obama vs. McCain - in America, he decides to travel to Ireland and research his family’s roots.
Addie is thirty-eight years old and has recently lost a baby as well as her long term partner. What is more, her work as an architect has dried up. With no real purpose in her life it is almost a blessing when her cantankerous father, Hugh, breaks both his wrists and needs her to move in to the family home to look after him. When Addie and Hugh discover that Bruno, who is a distant relative, is in Ireland to look into his family history, both of them are determined to ignore him. The last thing they need is a sentimental American disturbing the peace in their lives.
Yet, when Addie does meet Bruno she instantly knows that she is looking at the start of a love affair. What she doesn’t know is that she is also looking at the start of a complete life change. It may not be Bruno who causes all the changes in the lives of Addie and her family; he does somehow appear to be at the centre of them. Over the course of less then a year everything will change for Addie, Hugh, Della – Addie’s sister – and Bruno. And even with tragedy facing all of them, most of those changes are far from bad.
This story was set up in a rather clever way. When the story starts both Addie and Bruno came across as somewhat pathetic. Addie seems to have lost her way in life completely. Looking after her father keeps her going but she appears lethargic and borderline depressed and lacking the will to do anything about it. Bruno’s journey to Ireland seems to be some form of a midlife crisis at first. While it makes sense that he would like to give his life some purpose now that he has lost his job, his fear of the possible outcome of the upcoming election seems completely unrealistic and over the top.
It is only as these two characters develop that the reader slowly gets an insight into what motivates them. And while I never completely got my head around Bruno’s obsession with the election, I did get a much better appreciation of what was driving Addie and her reasons for being who and what she is.
While this book is foremost about the journey Bruno and Addie make together, both Hugh and Della have some issues of their own to come to terms with. Especially Hugh having to confront his past, his reluctance to talk about it, “snobbery, pure snobbery” and his heartbreaking confrontation with karma were very well executed.
I liked that none of the characters in this book were perfect; all of them were selfish and insensitive at times although it was constantly clear that they were all trying to do the best they could within their personal limitations.
This is a book that will take the reader through a wide range of emotions. You will find yourself smiling, frowning, exasperated and crying. This is a story that resembles life; there is no such thing as a perfect happy ending. All we can do is make the best of what we are given. And that is not a bad message to send out into the world.
Overall I would call this a deceptively easy read with a far deeper meaning than you would expect when you first pick it up. Prepare to be pleasantly surprised even while your heart breaks a little bit.