I couldn’t find a suitable partner for today’s review, but I wanted to get it out for publication day and it’s more than strong enough to stand alone. Another Irish writer to join this year’s favourites, although the novel is set in Cape Cod. It’s a beautifully written story of war orphans, bickering spouses, loneliness and our struggles to connect.
A little further along the beach is the house where artists Jo and Edward Hopper spend every summer, hoping to paint. Age and ill-health have exacerbated their differences: he taciturn, she yearning for attention he cannot give. She’s simultaneously possessive and resentful of his more successful career, and repeatedly goads him into arguments neither can win.
In company, Jo is grandiose, a poor listener and disparaging of women who’ve adopted a more traditional role. So it’s inevitable that her first meeting with the adult Kaplans (Richie’s family) does not go well. But Michael sees in her a quality he needs and they become friends. Poor Richie is neglected, although Edward occasionally connects him.
Michael is also besotted with Richie’s beautiful and tragic (she is terminally ill, perhaps the only ‘off’ note in the book) Aunt Katherine, and he’s not the only one. Edward is shocked to discover she’s the woman he’s been shadowing as a muse for the past few summers.
Long before I began reviewing, Mr A would joke that I liked books where nothing happens. Later, I realised I do need some plot. For me, The Narrow Land has exactly the right balance: there are events that lead to a climax, but this reads like ordinary life.
Ordinary, but never boring, the beautifully described minutiae take care of that. And such pathos in the loneliness of the characters, and the self-destructiveness of some. All are flawed but, while in some hands these flaws feel like a cynical collection of ‘issues’, here it seems as if the people couldn’t be any different to how Christine Dwyer Hickey presents them on the page. I don’t think that’s because the Hoppers are based on real people (that’s one of his paintings on the cover, by the way), but testament to the author’s empathy and skill.
Having enjoyed her previous novel, I thought I’d like The Narrow Land, but I didn’t anticipate quite how much. Unusually for me, ever conscious of my TBR shelf, I didn’t want it to end. Another Irish writer to join this year’s favourites, I can’t praise this enough. Thanks to Atlantic Books for my review copy.