This beautifully modulated first novel follows one day in the life of a British diplomat’s American wife as she organizes a dinner party crucial to her husband’s career.
When the British Ambassador to France falls ill and Clare Moorhouse’s husband Edward must host a last-minute dinner for a visiting VIP, he knows he can count on Clare to pull the dinner together in their Paris apartment. After 25 years of marriage, Clare is adept in her role as diplomatic wife: adaptable, circumspect and as pleasantly neutral as her tasteful attire. But the calm precision with which she arranges the dinner belies her growing anguish as the day proceeds. Learning that Edward may be named Ambassador to Ireland forces Clare to consider the secret about her past she has hidden from him: As a college student in Boston, she fell in love with a young Irish Catholic visiting her aunt; she allowed herself to become Niall’s mule to smuggle money back to Belfast before he deserted her and later supposedly drowned. Then Niall shows up, a flesh-and-blood ghost of her past mistakes. Those memories are dwarfed by her concern over her impetuous younger son Jamie, who’s just been suspended from boarding school on serious charges with political implications. And when a French official is assassinated hours before the party, Clare realizes that her brief street encounter with the primary suspect gives him a possible alibi. Struggling to sort out questions of loyalty, moral expediency and love while calmly carrying out the mundane responsibilities of her life, Clare finds a path to forgiveness and redemption. Yes, this is an homage to Virginia Woolf; echoes of Clarissa Dalloway resonate through Clare Moorhouse, from the pleasure taken in flowers and food to middle aged melancholia to the reunion with a past love, but Clare takes very different lessons from her day than Clarissa.
With this seemingly slight day-in-the-life tale, Korkeakivi produces a knowing comedy of manners, a politically charged thriller and a genuinely moving study of the human heart.