Mark Casey is a doctoral student in Dublin, struggling to find any enthusiasm for the thesis he is supposed to be writing while also trying to balance his father’s demands for help on the Longford farm with his own needs. While the gap between Mark and his father appears to be getting wider, his mother tries to keep a fragile peace between the two men.
Joanne Lynch is a trainee solicitor and the daughter of a man Mark’s father has considered an enemy ever since he was wronged by him twenty years ago.
When Joanne and Mark meet at a party the attraction is instant and before long they are in the middle of a love affair. With their relationship still in its early stages, Joanne finds herself pregnant and before they’ve had a real chance to get to know each other, Mark and Joanne find themselves the parents of a baby girl.
Just when the new family are starting to find their feet and some balance in their lives, disaster strikes. In the subsequent months both Mark and his father have to reassess their lives and priorities in an effort to keep on living and moving forward.
This was a quiet and unsentimental story, although the emotions and feelings of the main characters are firmly at the centre of it. While the content of the story has all the makings of an emotional roller-coaster, the subdued tone in which the story is told means that those emotions are only implied. The reader has to dig deep to actually feel the love, pain and despair which the characters have to be going through in the context of the story.
This book deals with the contrasts between life in the city and in the country-side, between the traditional expectations of the older generation versus the hopes and dreams of the younger. The story succeeds very well in describing live and relations in small Irish towns, where everybody knows everything about everybody and nothing ever stays hidden. It also gives a realistic picture of the devastation a big loss has on a person’s life and how such a loss can lead to confusion about what is a priority or even what is normal behaviour.
I had a few, minor, issues with the story. For starters, I could at no point while reading sympathise with Mark. From the start of the book I wanted to tell him to grow up, make up his mind, make a decision and stick to it. For a 30 year old man he had very little idea of what he really wanted and never seemed to be able to make a real decision. I also wasn’t entirely sure about the ending of the book. It seemed to me that nothing had been resolved when I closed the book and that the issues that had been introduced at the start of the story where still unresolved.
Having said all of that, I was intrigued by the story, its characters and their lives. The characters were almost too realistically human in that they just muddled on and didn’t really face up to the issues in their lives. And the book was very well written. The language is beautiful and the words flow in such a way that I had a hard time putting the book down.
This is an ambitious and well written novel and a very promising debut by an author I know I will be following from now on.