Read in the Vintage 2008 edition shown

The decision of the 2007 Booker prize judges to give this book the nod over On Chesil Beach must rank as one of the all-time puzzling decisions of a prize panel. Because this was lame. The novel’s central premise is very traditional – a family member has committed suicide, and the clan gathers to mourn their loss and review his life. This is shown us by Veronica Hegarty, the book’s narrator, sister of the suicide, Liam. We are told early on that Liam’s death can be traced back to an event in his childhood. The traditional dark secret revolves around her grandmother, Ada – I was irresistibly reminded of another Ada, great-aunt Ada Doom, who saw something nasty in the woodshed, and has never been the same since.

The reveal – that Liam was sexually assaulted by a friend of the grandmother. (he was staying with his grandmother as his mother went through yet another pregnancy) is underwhelming. The line between this assualt and his eventual suicide decades later is never drawn – in fact Liam is a very lightly sketched character, and we understand little about his life and why he took it. The disclosure of this incident from the past is not the turning point we are led to expect – it is not revealed to the wider family, and nothing comes from it.

Stylistically the prose is wooden and at times comically so. When the narrator has sex with her husband she describes lying there “quartered like a chicken”. The narrator says of the young undertaker “You could unpeel him and he would still be true” (75) which is not just a whacky metaphor but gibberish isn’t it? Whether this disjointed narrative is supposed to reflect the distressed psyche of the narrator is besides the point – it is still clumsyily written.
The central character is unsympathetic and the fact that her mother often is unable remember is unsurprising.
Novels where nothing happens, and the events just consist of unstructured memory – and the point that Veronica’s memory is flawed, and is constantly being reconstructed is laboured to death here – flowing back and forth across the events of the past – are getting tired. I am really crying out for a novel where something happens and the characters are believable and interesting. Not much to ask for is it?

P.S. As with The Accidental, negative reviews on Amazon outweigh the positive – and I genuinely don’t believe this is just Booker bashing.

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