A sex therapist moves to a small Irish town of Catholics, and then the story completely switches to the story of a woman dealing with betrayal and problems of being an immigrant.
The story begins with a Dubliners-esque feeling because each chapter focuses on one person from a small Irish town and Dr. Vuk’s encounters with each individual. Sometimes he is central to the story, and sometimes he is on the periphery. However, the story eventually shifts focus to Fidelma, and the story is told more like a typical novel. But at one point it shifts back to the episodic structure before returning to Fidelma’s story specifically.
If you think that description is confusing, you should have read the book. The narration bounces back and forth between first and third person narration. The novel is divided into three parts, and the last two seem like a completely different story from the first. Several people are introduced throughout the novel that just float off into nothingness and leave you wondering why they were even brought up. The description methods are not consistent; sometimes the author gives an abundance of minute details about setting, and then suddenly the setting isn’t even a part of the story and only characters are described.
I felt the author was trying to take on too many topics at once. The story was about betrayal, war, immigration, loss, motherhood, friendship, identity, and probably more, but I stopped trying to figure out the main point and just rode with those. I believe the writing was disjointed because the author was trying to reflect Fidelma’s perspective, but that many topics plus disjointed prose does not come off well.
I was hoping the last chapter would bring Fidelma, and by extension me, some clarity, but it doesn’t. I think the point was that Fidelma finds herself and her usefulness among the lost people, but the extended description of a play did not work because the chosen play did not at all match the theme for me. If the point of using A Midsummer Night’s Dream was to show that perceptions are skewed, that is a S T R E T C H. There were a couple places in the book where Shakespeare came up, and I wasn’t really sure why he was there. Don’t get me wrong; I love Bill the Quill, but I don’t think both Yeats and Shakespeare need to be pushed into a novel. Yeats was doing just fine on his own.
The novel had some truly great moments, and I think parts could have made great short stories. I also think this story had potential as a novel, but that it wasn’t realized. There is no denying O’Brien’s descriptive power, but this novel really had no focus for me. I am not left with the desire to read it again or to read her other works, but it did keep my attention and left me thinking, which is sort of the point of books.
Oddly though, I think this book is one other people should read. I think if it were given as reading for a class or a book club people would be jumping all over each other to defend its greatness while others defend their idea that it is a flawed work. That in itself is good enough reason to give a book high praise. By all means, read it for yourself and tell me what you think. It will be an interesting journey for you to say the least.