Financial threats to a family estate in the Irish countryside abruptly leave a man and woman empty nesters without their nest.
Pretty much the entire plot of this debut novel reveals itself in the opening chapter. A mother and daughter have locked themselves into an unused ballroom in the family manor after the mother, who “had grown strange,” had yanked the daughter out of the boarding school she had just begun attending. The father tries to get them to open the door, but they ignore him. The daughter’s younger brother has died. The rest of the novel fills in the details—names, motivations, how the past has led to the present—in a manner that plays hopscotch with chronology and point of view. More than half the novel after that scene-setting intro finds chapters alternating between the perspectives (but not the voices) of father John and son Philip as the family prepares to turn its house over to the government as a tourist attraction and move to a small cottage on the grounds. John has apparently been keeping the family’s perilous financial condition (as well as a more lucrative option) a secret from his wife. Eight-year-old Philip wonders where he will play, and he hates the thought of other children touring what was his bedroom (where he will no longer be allowed). John’s chapters provide some context on the family history and that of the estate, how history seems to both repeat itself and break from the past. Then comes another long section narrated in the first person by mother Marianne, who remembers her courtship with John and her introduction to the countryside. Then a quick concluding chapter returns the novel full circle without really providing resolution. As John muses, “there had to be unsaid things between husbands and wives, and he had learnt that, though these were the things that saved you, they separated you too.”
Lots of symbolic portent—the past, the sea, the family—and an overcomplicated narrative structure attempt to turn an elemental melodrama into a novel with more literary weight.