Three generations of an Irish family confront key moments of the past in this eloquent, understated novella.
It’s the spring of 2006, and Ireland can hear the last roars of the Celtic Tiger in an economic boom that peaked six years earlier. Fintan Buckley, a prosperous Dublin businessman of 47, enjoys dinners with his wife, Colette, and three children. His sister, Martina, owns a successful clothing shop in the city. His mother, Joan, and aunt Beth can afford lunch in one of the capital’s top restaurants. Ireland-born Madden (Molly Fox’s Birthday, 2010, etc.) moves the adults through meals, excursions, visits, bouts of insomnia and countless cups of tea. The modest action serves as frame to thoughts drifting away from the present. Fintan, with a sudden interest in old photographs, recalls a beloved childhood friend. Beth retraces the path that surprised her in middle age with a truly happy marriage. Martina looks back on a career spanning retail underling to proud proprietor. Yet shadows hang over everything. Thoughts of the Troubles stem from relatives in the north (while Madden also previews the economic collapse to come in 2008). Joan’s views on motherhood are clouded by the difficult pregnancy and three days of labor that produced Martina. Fintan experiences “hallucinations and strange shifts of perception.” Martina reveals to no one the nightmarish experience that drove her from London. Hers is a rare instance of real drama in the book. Madden’s brief chronicle focuses on the homely and habitual in daily lives shaped by the accretion of memories and enriched by the moments when one takes the time to peruse them.
Almost poetic in its control and well-chosen details, this novel finds the universal and the unique in a deceptively unassuming look at one family.