At just over 300 pages this is one of those solid novels. It is a novel about a family originally from the west coast of Ireland, somewhere near Limerick, but only the matriarch, now widowed, and one of her daughters still live out there. The other three kids, all adults, have dispersed across the face of this globe: one son to New York and then Canada, another to the Far East and Central Africa working for some kind of NGO, while the other daughter is an actor in Dublin.
Enright writes the kind of polished, stately prose that leaves you in no doubt where you are: in the middle of highly competent and believable novel about the travails of a family…until around 50 pages from the end, she kicks into a different gear, taking a unexpected career off into the night. it is nervy and exhilarating and brings a very different closure to the book than might have been expected.
The structure is neat and clever, at least to those of us who don’t write novels, the background is set for each of the children and the mother, Rosaleen. The diaspora of children are met at their daily lives: Dan, the once upon a time priest now living an openly gay life of hedonism in New York ferociously curtailed by the start of the AIDS epidemic; Hanna who had some success as an actress but is now a young mum in a deeply unhappy place; Emmet, living in Mali with his short-lived girlfriend Alice, and a street dog she unwisely brings home; and Constance, a mother of two teenagers, married to Dessie a dully reliable man and she is drinking. The novel slowly draws them all back to the old family home where Rosaleen still lives, for Christmas. And the tighter they circle, the more like a whirlpool or tornado it becomes. At the centre the mother who daydreams about the love of her dead husband, while seemingly unable to tell any of her children that she loves them.
It is accomplished and recommended; one of those lovely novels that we all want to wallow in every once in a while.