March always heralds the arrival of the brilliant Reading Ireland Month- celebrating all that is good about Irish books and culture- hosted by Cathy at 746books and Niall at The Fluff Is Raging Eager to join in the fun, here is my small contribution to the #begorrathon16, reviewing debut author Kate McQuaile.
Louise Redmond left Ireland for London before she was twenty. Now, more than two decades later, her heart already breaking from a failing marriage, she is summoned home. Her mother is on her deathbed, and it is Louise’s last chance to learn the whereabouts of a father she never knew. Stubborn to the end, Marjorie refuses to fill in the pieces of her daughter’s fragmented past. Then Louise unexpectedly finds a lead. A man called David Prescott, but is he really the father she’s been trying to find? And who is the mysterious little girl who appears so often in her dreams? As each new piece of the puzzle leads to another question, Louise begins to suspect that the memories she most treasures could be a delicate web of lies…
Despite my steadfast resolution to avoid crime fiction of the more domestic variety, I was hearing good things about this one, and so am happy to break my self-imposed resolution. In the spirit of honesty, which I appear to be known for, I did have some issues with this one, but here are my thoughts…
What I really liked about this book was the central premise of the story itself revolving around familial bonds and how memory can be such a deceptive but powerful driving force in how our sense of self is formed. I thought McQuaile captured perfectly the mother/daughter bond between Louise and Marjorie, and the inherent differences in their character which are slowly revealed as the book progresses. As Louise seeks to fill in the gaps in her family background, with her unknown father, and a mother singularly reticent to answer her questions, even as her own mortality catches up with her, I found their relationship totally believable, and striking a few emotional chords with my own background. I thought the gradual unfurling of the truth behind Louise’s identity was perfectly weighted throughout, with a denouement that was both plausible and clever, forcing Louise to completely reassess who she was. Another interesting conundrum McQuaile examines is how easy it is to do the wrong thing, but with the overriding sense that it is for the right reasons, however twisted the logic is behind these actions, and this was painfully brought to the fore when the truth about Marjorie is exposed. Also McQuaile manipulates the truthfulness of memory, and how half-remembered incidents, sensual indicators, and locations impact so strongly on our perception of past events, and the emotions these produce in us.
Less successful for my enjoyment of the book was the personal life of Louise, the relationship with her husband Sandy, an ill thought out dalliance, and a verging on Fatal Attraction storyline that to me seemed slightly unnecessary in the wake of such a strong central storyline. Obviously, to avoid spoilers I can’t go into too much detail, but I felt that aside from Louise’s regret and reasons for not having her own family, the marital woes she experiences would have been easily remedied without the amount of naval gazing, and emotional to and fro that afflict her as the book progresses. As I was enjoying the spirit of detection she exhibits in tracking down her father, I found myself side-tracked by the marital shenanigans, and was champing at the bit to see where her next line of enquiry would take her. Although I did like Louise as a character, her sometimes swift descent into extreme wooliness was slightly frustrating.
To bring this back to the initially positive vibe, there was a strong location of place throughout the book, and I enjoyed the way that McQuaile gave us snapshots of the way that the locations of Ireland and London seemed to surreptitiously shape the behaviour of Louise herself. There was a good contrast between both the city and rural locations as the book progressed, and an intervention of the authorial voice to bring a real sense of colour and life to each location. We clearly see how Louise perceives her former life in Ireland, set against her current residence in London, the sharp differences between the two, and how they subtly impact on her emotions and actions.
All in all I’m rather glad to have put my head above the parapet and broken my domestic noir resolution, as I found this debut by and large both intriguing and enjoyable. Recommended.
(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)