A pseudonymous first novel tries too hard to be witty, perceptive, and profound as it explores the long consequences of loyalties and love under stress in wartime France and Ireland.
Moving back and forth between past and present, Ireland and France, the story spans the week it takes Laure McManus’s father, French aristocrat Armand de Coucy, to die following a fall on his estate, Colonfay. At the time, the old man had been attempting to saw a broken limb from the sinister 300-year-old cedar tree under which criminals have been executed. As he lies dying now, waiting to make peace with his estranged children, Laure and Patrick, he revisits the past—along with his son-in-law, Irish-born Dermot McManus, a poet and advertising consultant who does the Irish boyo to the max as he goes on long riffs about God, alcohol, and the years gone by, while frequently quoting from Yeats, Wilde, and other clever Irish lads. Laure and Patrick can’t forgive their father for seeming to cooperate with the Germans during the French Occupation and for assenting to the death of local Jews. Laure is especially harrowed by his failure to help her when she was sexually molested by her Fascist uncle. Haunted by the past, and sexually frigid until she has a brief encounter with a visiting American, Laure wants to divorce Dermot, who’s taken a mistress. But Dermot still loves Laure, though the marriage was badly strained when their only daughter Penelope was killed. Dermot’s Irish past is no sunnier than Laure’s: His father, who fought for the British in WWI, was later murdered for being a British Loyalist, and Dermot fled Ireland after discovering his body. As Armand’s death draws near, both Laure and Dermot learn a few painful secrets, and finally understand that war, like love, can be messy and cruel but also offer opportunities for redemption.
Strained, stagy, and schematic.