I actually cried so hard I couldn’t breathe whilst reading, in fact, listening to this book. I highly recommend the audible version, I could have listened to the dulcet, lilting tone of the Irish narrator for ever. This story definitely hit a few raw nerves for me. It is about a couple who meet at university and go on to have four children - a journey remarkably similar to my own. But their road is rocky and bumped off course time and time again by spates of depression, an issue close to my heart. So maybe it is not all that surprising that this novel triggered an emotional outpouring more dramatic than Niagra Falls. In fact, once I had started balling I could stop, into the stir-fry I was cooking for supper! I had to explain the premise of the book to my anxious looking children in an attempt to convince them I was not in fact having a nervous breakdown! But it was not just the uncanny symmetry between the lives in the book and my own that prompted such a visceral action. I connected with these perfectly drawn characters. In fact, I fell hook, line and sinker in love with both Maeve and Murtagh Moone - who wouldn’t with names like those! Helen Cullen crafted these two protagonists who are so brilliantly honest, so undeniably real and so very articulate in the way that they describe their emotions, that you cannot help but feel every flutter of anxiety, every shiver on the skin, every clenching of the door handle with them. And yet despite being so in touch with their feelings they are utterly at the mercy of them, and it is this powerlessness that makes this story so devastating. Murtagh and Maeve meet at Trinity College Dublin, she is an aspiring actress, enigmatic in a pair of red shoes she painted herself. He is a less vivacious, but wonderfully gentle, aspiring potter. The attraction is mutual and their yin and yang personalities continue to both compliment and conflict with each other throughout their bittersweet lives together. Theirs is a humbling love story that somehow lacks sentimentality despite its tragic end. And the setting is like the third party in their marriage. After marrying Maeve and Murtagh move to their beloved island ‘Inis Og’. Just off the west coast of Ireland it has wild sweeping beaches where Maeve teaches the women to swim and a small community that is as suffocating as it is kind. Cullen is brilliant at zooming in on the quiet minutiae of island life and she paints this wonderfully atmospheric picture that you feel you can smell, touch, see and feel all at the same time. The four Moone children are as quirky and flawed as their parents and we follow each of them on their journeys of grief as they struggle to deal with the aftermath of the tragedy towards which the entire novel builds. And just as you are winding down into what you presume is the finale, the story takes a brilliantly unexpected turn and evolves into something altogether new. It is an intensely emotional and yet quietly beautiful reading experience, full of wonderful twists and complex characters. My perfect kind of novel!
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