A somber, haunting debut novel from Irish poet Hardie about a world-weary, financially desperate woman who seeks security for herself and her son by marrying an elderly Anglo-Irish farmer.
Born in Java of mixed parentage, cold-blooded, mercenary Hannie has always lived off men. But her looks are fading with middle age, and she’s penniless after her most recent failed marriage. So Hannie leaves Africa for England, where she meets and marries Ned, a former journalist and world traveler now retired to a farm in the Irish countryside of his youth. They enter marriage pragmatically: Ned wants a companion; Hannie needs financial support and a home for herself and 14-year-old Joss. But once ensconced on Ned’s farm, Hannie feels excruciatingly isolated and unhappy, while Ned is crushed by her unwillingness to reach out to his Anglo-Irish friends and family. To make matter worse, Joss (who arrives from Africa shortly after the marriage) is a deeply troubled boy, possibly psychopathic. Hannie senses the inexorable pull toward disaster as Joss spends more and more time with Ned’s tenant, a lovely and innocent would-be artist named Niamh. The author slowly and relentlessly probes her characters’ psyches: Hannie’s seeming amorality covers a deep sense of loyalty; Ned’s growing love for his wife collides with his sense of social duty; Joss is both unreachable and heartbreakingly needy. Notable among the equally complex cast of supporting characters is Ned’s housekeeper Mrs. Coady, Hannie’s unlikely soulmate, who understands maternal passion because she has lost a child of her own. Tensions build as secrets are half-revealed, but ultimately this elusive novel defies easy summary because so much of the plot occurs in the smallest details and between the lines. Hardie allows no sentimentality or easy conclusion. Despite the reader’s early assumptions about who is moral and who is not, in the end it is Hannie who must forgive Ned’s betrayal.
Difficult, dark, and uncompromisingly fine.