With the same emotional spadework as in her bestselling Are You Somebody? (1998), O’Faolain turns over the past half decade to try understanding how and why they happened.
O’Faolain moves from her 50s to her 60s during these years, and she feels the narrowing of time and prospects. The narrative is broken into shortish segments, as if the charge of her thoughts quickly saps her energy, so hard do they burn. She is childless and alone at the start, having just ended one long-term relationship, though soon enough she launches a rather greedy affair with an older (and, as she’ll later discover, married) workingman (one senses she is tapping him for character material to use in a novel) and then starts a new love affair in America with a man named John. “One of the great things about this time of life,” she says, is “that good things matter to their fullest extent, because you know exactly how rare they are.” This includes, for her, the rekindling of society with her older siblings, friendships, and an alertness to the pleasures of animals and the natural world. But O’Faolain is one to worry the ambiguities and ambivalences in all that touches her life—shrewdly, artfully, without equivocation. There are obvious things: her alcoholic mother, family pain, the regrets of a spent—blown—youth, drinking too much, the disappearance of love, the place of women in Irish culture, the place of Ireland in her heart. And there are things you wish she’d leave well enough alone, like the minor problems with John (and, oh, how readers will pull for that relationship) that she picks at obsessively.
O’Faolain may be “almost there”—free of turbulence and waste, out of the wild hills and onto calm water—but she may also be constitutionally incapable of such a condition: there’s too much grit in her keen eye to let it rest easy upon the world.