Irish poet and novelist Hardie (A Winter Marriage, 2002) digs deep into issues of morality and identity through the voice of a Protestant woman from Derry coming to terms with her inexplicable healing powers while living in Southern Ireland with her Catholic husband.
College student Ellen, daughter of a no-nonsense teacher, marries a conventional, working-class Protestant boy from Belfast. After their daughter dies at birth, Ellen foresees the death of an acquaintance and has a mental breakdown. Out of the hospital but still fragile within her marriage and her sanity, Ellen meets Liam, a sculptor and stonemason. Although she fights it, she recognizes he is her destiny. She leaves her husband and moves to Southern Ireland with Catholic Liam, whom she eventually marries. As much as she loves Liam and enjoys their life with their two children, his friends and his warm, accepting family, Ellen remains an outsider. Infused with the grittier, more violent energy of the Protestant North, she cannot accept the Catholic South’s soft ease. She is also painfully aware that she’s clairvoyant. Although part of Liam’s initial appeal lay in seeing that clairvoyance as a gift, not a sickness, she feels pressured by his embrace of her power. When he discovers Ellen can also heal by touching, Liam nudges her to cash in on it, and she reluctantly bends to his will. Her one friend is Catherine, an emotionally needy but appealing ex-nun who makes commercially popular pottery. When Ellen discovers Catherine’s brief affair with Liam, her life falls apart. Then she learns that her long-estranged mother is approaching death. Returning to the North, Ellen faces realities she has avoided, both about her family of origin and about the family she has created with Liam.
In a voice uncompromisingly tough, without the witty charm or sugarcoating of so much contemporary female-driven fiction, Hardie creates resonant characters unafraid to navigate through the contradictions inherent in every life.