It might be a surprise to her many fans, but I’ve never read a Faith Hogan novel before. I can’t think why, because I absolutely loved this literary mix of the deeply emotional, yet uplifting and funny book set in a small seaside village in Ireland. It focuses on a lifelong friendship between two older women – Jo and Elizabeth. Jo lives in a small cottage overlooking the bay and has one daughter, Lucy. Lucy is a doctor whose having a long break over the summer from working long hours in a busy hospital. She’s still struggling with the aftermath of a divorce and a husband who has a new wife and relocated to the much sunnier and glamorous sounding Australia. Elizabeth is still grieving her husband, the village GP, but is still keeping his secrets. All three women meet in the bay at midnight for a dip in the freezing cold Atlantic. Finally, there’s Dan, a young writer taking a break from script-writing and hoping inspiration hits in the quaint Irish village of Ballycove.
This book hinges on the strength of its characters and I was destined to love Elizabeth. Up until now she seemed to hold herself apart from the village, apart from the abiding friendship she shares with Jo, who knew her before she became the doctor’s wife. Remote from other villagers in her large house with adjoining doctor’s surgery she is in the strange position of knowing some of the most personal aspects of her neighbour’s lives, yet not a single one knows her story. Many might have thought she was destined for the big house and the status it brings, but nothing could be further from the truth. Elizabeth finds her house cold and never truly feels at home there, preferring instead the cosiness of Jo’s small cottage. As the novel progresses she creates a corner for herself with the comfiest chair and the evidence of her hobbies laying round about her. It’s the most comfortable she’s ever been in her beautiful house, that’s never really been a home. She has just lost her husband and is going through all the upheaval that brings, but there were secrets about her marriage that nobody knows. The young doctor’s proposal for Elizabeth’s hand had conditions attached, more than she could ever have realised at the time. It was the only way out of a terrible situation she found herself in – pregnant and afraid she made the bargain, then paid a terrible price for the rest of her life. What we experience with her is an awakening and so many new experiences start to open up, signified powerfully by the midnight skinny dipping she’s enticed into by her friend Jo. She emerges ready to take on the problems she finds herself in, not least the gambling debts racked up by her late husband and the ailing practice he left behind. Firstly hiring Jo’s daughter Lucy as an interim GP for the summer, making plans to sell the house and helping visiting author Dan in his quest to find out more about the local home for unwed mothers. There is more heartache to come, but will Elizabeth have the strength to face it?
Lucy is another character dealing with the aftermath of huge life changes, after the collapse of her marriage. She’s taking a break from work and hoping to reconnect with her son Niall. He finds it hard to accept the quieter pace of life in Ballcraig and hates that he’s left friends behind. He has a heartbreaking conversation with his mum where he discloses that he’d rather go live with his Dad in Australia. He’s imagining his father’s cool apartment overlooking the Sydney harbour and the excitement that living back in a city might bring. Lucy knows her ex- husband will say yes, not because he has a burning need to spend time with his son, but because it will score points. It takes a strong woman to put aside her misgivings and make that phone call, but she does. However, as Niall forms a relationship with Dan after visiting his cottage out on the cliff, then meets the piano seller’s daughter will the magic of this little village rub off on him? Lucy also starts to find friendship, firstly with Elizabeth and also with her mother who encourages her to join the midnight swimming club. She also starts to confide in Dan who is a great listener, but since both of them are only visiting the coast, is this a friendship that can flourish.
Lastly Jo, who is one of those characters who seem to sustain everyone else. She’s the friend with the cosy home that people want to visit, the starter of social gatherings, and the great listener with a cup of tea never far away. As always with good listeners and people used to caring for others, she isn’t always good at sharing her own worries and problems. She’s fiercely loyal to her friends, the evening long ago, where she started an altercation with Elizabeth’s husband over how he was treating her friend is long remembered and talked about. Without seeming to do much she is the lynchpin of this group and is thought well of by her fellow villagers. When it’s clear she does need help, the support comes from all around her. I really enjoyed her acceptance of life with all its heartbreak and absurdities, as well as the way she values her female friends.
These characters are so well drawn I feel that they might exist somewhere. The setting is beautifully romantic, even if the sea is absolutely freezing! Dan’s quest is well handled too, with an honesty about the awful cruelty that did happen within mother and baby homes in Ireland, the true extent of which still hits the headlines today. The author uses her older characters to describe what it is like when a country is so ruled by any religion, and how in small villages the word of the parish priest or Mother Superior was law. I enjoyed the humour though too, often just in the way the characters talk to each other but also in little ‘in-jokes’ with the reader such as Dan imagining the swimming club as one of those films like Calendar Girls. I can imagine this as a film, but until then I have quite a back catalogue to dive into. Thanks to this novel, Faith Hogan has a new fan.
Meet The Author
Faith Hogan is an Irish award-winning and bestselling author of five contemporary fiction novels. Her books have featured as Book Club Favorites, Net Galley Hot Reads and Summer Must Reads. She writes grown up women’s fiction which is unashamedly uplifting, feel good and inspiring. She lives in the west of Ireland with her husband, four children and a very busy Labrador named Penny. She’s a writer, reader, enthusiastic dog walker and reluctant jogger – except of course when it is raining!