Reviewer: Ms Oh Waily
Published in 2007, this novel won the Man Booker Prize in the same year and two further Irish book awards the following year.
Set predominantly in Dublin, the narrator is one of the large Hegarty clan, Veronica. She starts the winding tale with a wistful desire to revisit a specific time in her childhood,
I would like to write down what happened in my grandmother’s house the summer I was eight or nine, but I am not sure if it really did happen.
And that is the beginning of a long, slow, meander through current day events, Veronica’s memories, thoughts and imaginings.
The main story begins with Veronica visiting her mother in order to tell her that her older brother Liam has died. Veronica gets this duty from being the “the careful one” and because she is “the one who loved him most” of the siblings.
From this point on, the narrative jumps from the current day to her memories to her imagination and back again. She spends a lot of time musing about her grandparents, Ada and Charlie, and their contemporary Lamb Nugent. She also recalls many aspects of her childhood and reflects on the way her family was, and how that plays out to their individual present day situations, including Liam’s manner of death.
I will start off by saying that I didn’t enjoy the novel. It wasn’t hard reading at all, and neither was the subject matter. I simply didn’t find myself pulled in by the story or the characters. I found it to be disjointed, and not so much by the flashbacks, but how the entire narrative hung together and was brought to resolution.
In the situation of how her brother, Liam, came to take his own life by walking in to the sea in Brighton, it would be natural and normal to expect narrative to explore the very quirky Hegarty family’s upbringing. The historical creation of a story around Charlie, Ada and Lamb was not, to me. As crucial to the understanding of Liam’s death as the relationship between those three might have been and as much as Veronica may have wondered about their history, I didn’t feel her imaginative passages about them added to the story. Nor did I feel like they explained very much about how the incident had occurred at her grandmother’s house when she was a child.
All in all, I didn’t find this to be a very satisfying read. The oddities of the family didn’t really redeem it for me, nor did a lot of the waffling around the key issue. There may be some truth in a statement Veronica makes at the end of chapter 22, but I’m just not convinced with the degree to which things have to be opened up, and how slowly they open, within this novel.
I look at my own children and I think you know everything at eight. But maybe I am wrong. You know everything at eight, but it is hidden from you, sealed up, in a way you have to cut yourself open to find.
I don’t like to give negative reviews, because there is always something good in a book. For me this book simply didn’t have anything memorable, touching or thought provoking about the story or the prose. You may find it to be the opposite.