Veronica Hegarty has lost her mind and her life is a train wreck. Her favorite brother Liam has been found dead, a suicide, at the age of 40. Her marriage has been on the rocks, her relationships with her numerous family members range from uncomfortable to estranged, and her memory is fading or invented. I loved this novel.
Veronica, the eighth of 12 children born to an Irish family in the mid-twentieth century, narrates her grief in a vivid, visceral and graphic way. For a woman with so many relationships, she has almost no intimacy, except once, long ago, with her brother who is now dead. She is overwhelmed by this loss:
"And what amazes me as I hit the motorway is not the fact that everyone loses someone, but that everyone loves someone. It seems like such a massive waste of energy - and we all do it, all the people beetling along between the white lines, merging, converging, overtaking. We each love someone even though they will die."But Veronica has a secret about Liam - at least she is pretty sure she does. Memory is such a strange beast though, she finds that if she tries hard enough she can conjure a memory about almost anything - even if she knows it couldn't have happened, or if she knows it happened to her sister and not herself. But what she knows - that Liam was "interfered with" as a boy of 9 - she has never told anyone in the family. This play with memory, and the "something immoral about the mind's eye" that Anne Enyeart explores through Veronica's narration is what captivated me so thoroughly. Because the narration skips across time, and because Veronica blends fiction, memory, and the here-and-now so seamlessly, the facts surprise us even as we anticipate their telling.
It's not a comfortable book. (I could have written this entire review on the various and creative symbolic meanings of penises in the novel, for example). Enright doesn't shy from some of the hardest subjects I can think of: suicide, child molestation, infidelity, alcoholism. But Veronica becomes such a real and sympathetic character that I had a hard time putting the book down.