Set in contemporary Ireland, this is a novel of self-sacrifice, penance, and circumscribed possibilities for happiness, narrated with great compassion and written with elegant lyricism.
At the age of 33, Melody Shee finds herself pregnant and under a moral cloud. The father of her child is not Pat, her husband of a decade, but rather Martin Toppy, a 17-year-old she had been tutoring. Martin is a Traveller, a member of an ethnic group similar to though distinct from the Roma, and the Traveller subculture plays a major and fascinating role in the novel. Travellers tend to set themselves apart from the larger community, and their children are often not integrated into the educational system—hence the need for people like Melody who can tutor them. Enraged by Melody's infidelity, not least because their own relationship had yielded only miscarriages, Pat leaves home, and Martin soon disappears as well. Ryan structures each chapter as a week in Melody’s pregnancy, beginning with week 12 and ending with the birth of her son and a postpartum grace note. Melody narrates the novel, and her consciousness is at its core as she moves from despair and suicidal thoughts to guilt and the need for penance to self-acceptance and a willingness to put others’ needs ahead of her own. Desperate for emotional support during this grueling time, Melody turns to Mary Crothery, a young Traveller woman with whom she develops an intense and quasi-romantic relationship. Mary and her family are deeply involved in Traveller power struggles, and her engagement in these affairs results in violence and blood vengeance. Throughout the term of Melody’s pregnancy, Mary remains stalwart, and having her nearby gives Melody someone to care for. Mary's presence also gives Melody an opportunity for a form of displaced penance for something that happened when she was a teenager. We learn through flashbacks that Melody’s best friend, Breedie Flynn, committed suicide when Melody and others turned against her during a volatile time, and Melody hopes to atone for her mistreatment of Breedie by nurturing Mary.
Emotionally intense, deeply engaging, and profound.