Grounded by fog during a layover, a woman heading to New York recalls growing up in wartime England and the lover she has just left in Ireland in this thoughtful, multifaceted work.
In her ninth novel, the Canadian writer (Sanctuary Line, 2010, etc.) again taps her family’s Irish background. Tamara is one of a group of female pilots who ferry fighter planes around England during World War II. She then flees an unhappy marriage to settle with childhood friend Teddy in Ireland. A few years after his drowning death, she begins an affair with married Niall, a meteorologist whose County Kerry family is darkened by his mother’s suicide and the subsequent psychotic tantrums of his brother, Kieran. The unsatisfying relationship, full of long waits for short trysts, drives her to flee Niall for the U.S., when the clearly symbolic fog—see also the Eugene O’Neill epigraph from “Long Day’s Journey Into Night”—delays the flight in Gander, Newfoundland, and lets her ponder her life and the waiting room’s mural by real-life Canadian painter Kenneth Lochhead called “Flight and Its Allegories.” The novel essentially begins in that waiting room and then expands in parallel narratives about the painter and the brother while constantly returning to this former pilot, who wonders: “How could she, one of those previously forceful birds, find herself so essentially adrift?” Urquhart—whose prose at times flows from the same hand that has written four volumes of poetry—reveals her characters slowly, placing them within or privy to smaller narratives, vignettes, anecdotes that are themselves small marvels of storytelling and serve the several themes of love’s pain, family turmoil, and the elusive sense of home and place, especially in light of Ireland’s immigrant history. The Kieran narrative almost overwhelms with its powerful mix of sibling rivalry, Irish mysticism, and the passion of a first love. Yet ultimately, with Urquhart’s masterful hand, it fits well among the novel’s resonant whole.
Highly satisfying on many levels, this novel will have book clubs basking in its big symbols and abuzz over Tamara’s final decision; for when the fog lifts, there are two planes outside: one to New York and one to Shannon.