A book that seems to be positioned as crime fiction, but turns out to be a suffocating family drama with a murder thrown in. A story of complex family relations, seemingly resolved when the family dispersed, but brought back to life when everyone had to once again come together in a small Derry house.
Once again I got this book from one of the subscription boxes. Recently it looks like I only read books that I didn’t buy. This is great because my bookshelves are packed and I still have a huge choice, even though the bookstores are still closed.
Ciara and Heidi are two women brought together by their father. Ciara was Joe’s biological daughter, but he abandoned her and her mother for Heidi’s mother. Ciara carries her hurt and anger about the rejection throughout her life. Heidi on the other hand soon after her mother got together with Joe was left only with Joe, a virtual stranger, as her mother died. Now Joe is dying and Heidi, who against her will became his carer, has to reach out to Ciara, her lifelong enemy.
As the women come together neither of them has warm feelings towards the dying man or each other, and yet they are forced to spend many long and unpleasant hours in a tiny house where Joe lived. At least each of them comes with her partner, the people that anchor them in the external world. As you can expect there is many family secrets that will be discovered.
Interestingly neither Ciara nor Heidi is a really nice person, in fact, every single person we meet in this book is in some way self-centered and egoistic. Everyone wrapped in their own grief, hurt, and needs. As you can also expect we have emotionally abusive relationships everywhere we look. And people still desperately trying to move on from them in hope of finding freedom, redemption, and happiness.
And then one day Joe finally dies. The only problem is that police don’t think it was a natural death. So the question is: why kill a dying man? And one perceived as a pillar of community at that.
Surprisingly, this is one of the weird crime books, where the whodunnit is less important than character development. Because what really matters here is how people deal with trauma, the importance of other people in one’s life. But also the fragility of trust and paranoia that ensues when it is shattered.
The book does a good job of keeping the sticky, suffocating atmosphere throughout. Even if it loses the crime-related tension pretty quickly. Actually, it may its biggest asset, it is slow, it is not really about a murder, it envelopes us in many unpleasant things and makes us want to come out for air.
It made me think about how we all heal, and whether denial and forgetting can help with healing. Also is forgiveness or revenge helpful in any way? Can we get redemption from the outside or does it have to come from within? How to tell gaslighting from paranoia?
While it is not a masterpiece or even a pleasant book to read it draws you in and locks the door behind. It is tough but it also makes us think about things we habitually avoid.
Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska