This book starts with an emotional earthquake and from then on keeps the tension all the way to the end. Veronica Hegarty has to tell her mother that her brother, Liam, is dead. Veronica is shocked and grieving herself and now she has to inflict this news on her mother, but at the same time she is grappling with resentment towards her mother for making her and Liam two of the twelve siblings, almost as if it took her individuality away. After finally sharing the news with her mother she travels to UK to identify and recover her brother’s body. From this point the narration splits into four timeliness all told by Veronica.
She tells us the story of her grandparents, how they met, how they lived, the kind of people she thinks they were, she focuses a lot more on Ada, her grandmother. This line intertwines with Veronica’s telling of her and Liam’s past, starting from childhood, where the stay at their grandparents house resulted in consequences they would have to bear their entire life, all the way to their last meeting. Another timeline is firmly fixed around the time of Liam’s death, this is where the story starts and this for me felt like present, even though Veronica also jumps into the future to show us how her brother’s death devastated her and her family. Those four threads are not linear, they intertwine according to what comes to Veronica;’s mind at a given point of time, she drives the story and even if she tries to understand her brother the story she tells is as much, if not more, about her. About grief, how it makes the mind wander, unmoored while it is looking for relief and explanation.
I never managed to remember all 11 names of Veronica’s siblings and at times it feels like she is also struggling to make sure she accounted for all of them. In her mind they are all vivid and different personalities, but the sheer number of them is overwhelming for her, she feels lost, one among many. It seems on one hand she fights for her individuality, but on the other when the whole family gathers she is drawn to this idea of ‘us Hegarty’s’, sh tries to find consolation in being together, sharing past with others, but the relief is short and in the end each of them has to grief on their own.
I also found Veronica’s relationship with her husband very interesting, it seems like she is bringing this fight for her individual self home after her brother’s death, she becomes separate from everyone else. It was an intense book, an emotional rollercoaster about a grieving family, trying to understand the past and look forward to the present.
Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska