A faithful sister fights for her mentally ill brother’s rights in Callaghan’s latest (The Visitors’ Book, 2001, etc.), originally published in Ireland.
When young Mary Connors is murdered, Angela Reilly feels sorrow. The 30-year-old teacher had met the pretty teen a few days before her death. But when Angela’s brother, Billy, becomes a suspect in the sexual assault and knifing, the tragedy hits home. Billy has schizophrenia, and in the face of their parents’ emotional distance, Angela has long assumed care for her younger brother, listening to his complaints about the lack of privacy and unfair rules of the Health Board hostel where he shares a dirty room. When the hostel warden, Tony, fines Billy for smoking in his room, Billy leaves and shows up at Angela’s school, threatening to commit suicide if anyone forces him back. Meanwhile, combined pressures push Kevin, Angela’s fiancé, over the edge and he breaks off their engagement. As the Dublin Garda move the investigation forward, Billy disappears and is presumed to be drowned, and Angela must try to make sense of what she knows, and what she believes to be true, of her family. In this pitch-perfect novel, Callaghan reproduces the tenuous balance of faith and love that can sustain family members of the mentally ill. “Deep down, you know people,” Angela says of Billy. “You know what they’re capable of. I’d known Billy from a baby; he’d always been gentle.” The author gives such a subtle, chilling portrayal of institutional cruelty, parental indifference and government warehousing that readers will want to share her faith.
Family is the real mystery in this deft novel.