Love and loss, grief and guilt
Publication date 11 January 2018, Random House UK
Review copy from the publishers, via NetGalley
My rating: 4.5 stars (I’ve rounded this up to 5 on Goodreads)
Isn’t the life of any person made up out of the telling of two tales, after all? People live in the space between the realities of their lives and the hopes they have for them. The whole world makes more sense if you remember that everyone has two lives, their real lives and their dreams, both stories only a tape’s breadth apart from each other, impossibly divided, indivisibly close.’
Every year, Robert’s family come together at a rambling old house to celebrate his birthday. Aunts, uncles, distant cousins – it has been a milestone in their lives for decades. But this year Robert doesn’t want to be reminded of what has happened since they last met – and neither, for quite different reasons, does his granddaughter Kate. Neither of them is sure they can face the party. But for both Robert and Kate, it may become the most important gathering of all.
Beautifully and lyrically written, I was soon totally absorbed in this book, alternating between Robert’s and Kate’s stories, as they reveal their thoughts and emotions, reflecting on their lives. It’s set on the day of Robert’s 80th birthday celebration. Still grieving after his wife’s recent death, he is finding it a sad, rather than a joyful occasion as the family gather together. His granddaughter, Kate is troubled at the thought of meeting her mother again after a three year estrangement. Then Robert’s day is interrupted by a phone call from Frank, a retired Oxford professor, whom he had known from his days as a civil servant working in Ireland, particularly at the time of the Remembrance Day bombing in Enniskillen in 1987.
The narration is split between Robert and Kate interspersed with extracts from the Boston Tapes, an oral history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland recording the recollections of combatants on both sides. What Frank reveals to Robert shocks him and he struggles to come to terms with it. In parts it moves slowly, particularly as Kate reflects on her life, revealing what caused the break-up with her mother and recounting the pain she had gone through with her anorexia and the guilt she feels over her boyfriend’s car accident. I found it a moving book with emotional depth.
My thanks to the publishers for a review copy via NetGalley.