I’ve been circling this book for the past few days, trying to decide why I found it so fascinating. Above all, it is certainly the writing. The writing! Truly, sometimes I found it so beautiful, it almost took my breath away. It is nuanced and sharp, and it often says much with very few words.
On Saturday night I cracked open a bottle of wine and we watched ‘The Wire’ on box set, and after we drank another bottle, despite which I was numb, in his arms, with the thought of all I had lost: the movement of his hand was just a movement, his tongue was an actual tongue. I had killed it; my best thing. The guilt, when it finally hit, was astonishing.
In contrast to the language, the characters are anything but beautiful. The guilt the narrator, Gina, talks about is caused by the affair she is having. She is cheating on her husband with Seán, a married man and father. Unlike in many other stories, Gina is not the wronged party. She is the one doing the wrong. I wouldn’t like her all that much if she didn’t have such a way with words. She told me many intimate details, and I knew many of her thoughts and emotions, yet I never felt close to her. She spoke of passion, but she never struck me as particularly passionate. She kept repeating herself, revisiting memories she had already told me about, seemingly without adding to them. All these odd contrasts made me constantly want more; I couldn’t stop reading.
Gina’s great love, Seán, is equally hard to pin down. Gina herself keeps saying that he has a way that tricks people into finding him interesting. I certainly couldn’t see what Gina saw in him; I think he is a scumbag, really. Gina is the second woman he has an affair with. He is demeaning and doesn’t seem especially caring. He once put in writing that Gina should hold a “secondary position” at the company she is working for. It is possible that the only reason he finally leaves his wife was money. I can’t be sure because even Gina doesn’t know exactly whether Seán’s job is profitable.
While the two first met during Ireland’s economic boom—when seemingly everyone bought second homes with a view of the ocean—they finally move in together when the boom is over. All those houses are now on the market.
Myself and Seán have loved a whole litter of
For Sale signs into being.
But there are no buyers in sight. And in addition to financial difficulties, there is also Seán’s 11-year-old daughter Evie. Gina knows that she will never be able to compete with the special bond between father and daughter and that she will never be anything like a mother to Evie.
It was September. The house had been on the market exactly a year. If you listened to the car radio, all the money in the country had just evaporated, you could almost see it, rising off the rooftops like steam. And there she was, this cuckoo, sitting in my kitchen; the price I had to pay for love.
With Evie, Gina gets “all the stupid stuff and none of the cuddles.” As an outsider, Gina is able to see things that Seán would never notice, for example, Evie’s manipulation of him. But again, I couldn’t be sure that what Gina was saying was true. A lot of it struck me as believable, as something that a non-parent would notice. But Gina admits that she can’t be objective, and there was just enough uncertainty in what she was saying to reject it as something borne of jealousy. Again, there are so many contrasts here that I can’t stop thinking about the characters. To me, that is the sign of a great book.
The end is left wide open. There is no indication of whether Gina and Seán will be happy together. Maybe these two imperfect people are perfect for each other. But to me, it is just as likely that they will not make it as a couple. And while Seán finally trusts Gina enough to have her pick up Evie at the bus stop, I have no idea whether the two will ever be close.
I say, “I know it’s hard about your parents, Evie.”
She does not reply.
“I just think, it was going to happen one way or another. I mean it could have been anyone, you know?”
She slides on; one scraping step after the other.
“But it wasn’t,” she says.
I can’t quite see her face.
“It was you.”