My last review was of a book that everyone loved and I did not. This time around, I find myself surprised by the abundance of 2 1/2 star reviews for a book I thought was awesome. As far as Google can tell, this has not yet been reviewed by any Cannonballers so I feel it is my duty to set the record straight and hope that some of you give this one a go.
I have read several Jo Baker novels, Longbourn being the favorite because it tugs at my Jane Austeny heartstrings, and I highly recommend her work. Her stories tend to be melancholy and a bit depressing. Baker is not lighthearted, but the plight of her characters rings true. There is a raw and vulnerable quality to her writing that can be uncomfortable (and this may explain the 2 1/2 stars a bit) but the honesty in that makes for a rewarding read.
At its core, this is a story about a young woman’s search for self. Generally adrift, Claire clings to people who she can hide behind: the vivacious childhood friend, Jenny, the boorish college boyfriend Alan. She paddles along in their wake. After graduating from Oxford, Claire follows her boyfriend Alan, back to his home town of Belfast. It takes place in the 90’s during Ireland’s “Troubles” which isn’t addressed often but does lend to her feeling of disconnectedness. She is a an offcomer; an outsider to everyone else’s shared history. She takes a job at a pub owned and frequented by Alan’s friends but always hovers around the edges of their lives. Trapped in a terrible relationship with Alan, she sees herself only as she thinks others see her. Afraid to return home to her parents where her mother is caring for her bedridden father and unable to extricate herself from Alan, Claire can see no welcome mat for her anywhere.
I realize, as I am writing this review, that I may not be doing a good job of selling this either. The plot is obviously nothing new. It’s a coming of age/what the hell do I do now that I have graduated from college kind of book, but the writing is the thing here. Baker elevates what could be a slog into a brutally honest and descriptive telling of what can happen after leaving the shelter of academic life for the “real” world beyond. It’s not something everyone experiences, but that point in time where you realize that you have to carve something for yourself and stand on your own is something most people can relate to.