In McKeon’s exquisite second novel, two Dublin young people—poet and student Catherine and aspiring art photographer James—tumble into a friendship that, though its lines shift and blur, ultimately helps bring their identities into focus.
From almost the first moment they meet, Catherine and James are inseparable. They talk on the phone for hours and write long letters to each other when they're apart, walk arm in arm, and share a special common language when they're together. Although Catherine, still adjusting to life at university and away from her rural childhood home, is studying art history and English, James, who also grew up outside the city and is just back from a stint working as an assistant to a well-known photographer in Berlin, seems (to her, at least) to know far more about, well, everything than she. With James, Catherine learns to be bold and take risks—intellectual, emotional, physical. James, too, finds a path to himself and to his future. But as their relationship, tracked over the course of a little more than a year, in 1997-'98, becomes increasingly complex and weightier and takes on new dimensions, it begins to fracture. McKeon, whose debut novel, Solace, won the 2011 Faber Prize and was voted the Irish Book of the Year, captures something essential about friendship, vulnerability, love, and longing. As it explores the push-pull of this achingly intimate, increasingly obsessive relationship—the way James and Catherine attract and repel each other as if they were two strong magnets turned this way and that—the story throbs with the tension between them. This is youth; this is yearning. These are the lessons we learn about desire and disappointment, discovered strengths and regrettable weaknesses—and how to forgive ourselves for the mistakes we made when we did not yet know how to keep ourselves from making them.
McKeon regards the characters in her keenly wrought love story—for all their flaws and fragility—with insight, sensitivity, and a compassion that proves contagious.