The story of an Irish woman’s lapse into adultery, this could have been the plot of any Marian-Keyes-molded chick lit, but was a refreshingly different take on the story. Gina is a difficult narrator; she changes her mind, she unapologetically misremembers things and uses this account as a simultaneous working out and defence of her actions. She glosses over some things and dwells on others, and frequently we get the sense of another part of the story developing just out of sight.
In fact, reading this novel felt for the life of me like going for dinner with a friend I hadn’t seen for a while, don’t know that well, and haven’t quite worked out if I liked. Two bottles of wine later and she’s pouring out the one-sided story she’s woven out of this drama, knowing you don’t know any of the people involved, knowing it’s a cliche, and trying to defend herself about the accusations she imagines you making.
It’s a hit and miss narrative strategy, because Enright has created a set of characters who you’re not sure whether you’re rooting for or furious at, and as these middle class Terenureans get more involved in their domestic dramas and economic worries, you’re not entirely sure why in that case you’re even reading it. But it’s a very human portrait of some very human characters, and every time I got a bit frustrated – for example, Sean’s epileptic daughter Evie appears at significant moments like their first kiss, and you think that she ought to serve more of a function in the novel, but then she gets kind of sidelined – it’s a result of Gina’s inability to quite make the story she’s telling work. Her mother’s death is dealt with in a kind of rambling aside that nevertheless forms the central part of the novel, in a way that makes you work to flesh out your own conclusions about how it’s affected Gina, and whether it’s connected to her affair with Sean or whether it just forms another event in her confused suburban life. Gina herself admits there’s no real way of knowing:
This is the real way it happens, isn’t it? I mean in the real world there is no one moment when a relationship changes, no clear cause and effect.
Or, the effect might be clear, the cause is harder to trace.
The effect walks up, many years later, when you are out to dinner with your new partner and she says, ‘My goodness. Would you look who it is.’
Not to everyone’s taste, then, but I was refreshed to find a novel that tried to honestly tell a woman’s experience, and wasn’t afraid to stop at admitting that that woman might be a flawed character, and narrator.