Two men walk into a pub, and they drink and talk until they can’t do either for much longer.
Much of Irish novelist Doyle's latest is made up of dialogue, unattributed, as recounted by a man in his late middle age named Davy. He's joined by Joe, a drinking buddy from his Dublin youth, though decades and geography have left some distance between them. Davy and his wife have long lived in England. He returns (alone) to visit his widowed father in Dublin, where Joe still lives. Neither of them drinks much anymore, but now that they're reunited, they decide to do it up like old times. As their talk gets more drunken, sloppier and circular, those old times are very much on Joe’s mind, because he recently left his wife for Jessica, a woman he had first met in those long-ago pubs with Davy and hadn’t seen for almost four decades. So they talk of who they were and who they are, their marriages and their families, since neither knows the other’s much at all. In some ways, they no longer know each other well. Yet they know each other better than anyone else does, as the much younger men they once were. And perhaps still are? As Joe confesses and Davy badgers him, Davy also shares with the reader at least some of what’s on his mind: his own marriage and something he doesn't want to share with Joe. He keeps checking his phone for a call that doesn’t come. They keep ordering another round, pints that neither of them really wants. “The drink is funny, though, isn’t it?” says Joe. “You see things clearly but then you can’t get at the words to express them properly.” Whatever clarity they are finding isn't all that clear to the reader, who is beginning to find their company as exhausting and interminable as they do. It seems that Davy is hiding something, burying something, doing his best to escape something from which there is perhaps no escape. Eventually, they have to leave.
By the time the novel belatedly reaches the big reveal, the reader has passed the point of caring.