This novel is longlisted for the Booker prize, which is why I requested it from the library some time ago. I knew it was about a retired Irish police officer who receives a call from former colleagues regarding a previous case, which in turn dredges up a variety of emotional scars. That sounded open ended enough, perhaps like a Tana French novel, and I often enjoy thriller-adjacent novels set in Ireland – and from the cover and other vague descriptions, it sounded just dreamy enough.
Well, this book was all of the above, and yet more and less so than I thought. It’s really less about any sort of police procedural, although that’s part of the framing device of the novel. It’s more a fever dream about the debilitating nature of unrelenting grief. Tom Kettle, our former policeman, once had a wife whom he loved dearly, June. Together they had two children, Winnie and Joe. Slowly, we learn why this retiree is spending his days alone near the Irish Sea. Each of the seventeen chapters in this novel becomes more mired in Tom’s grief, until the final chapters in which we learn more about Tom’s family and their individual fates.
It’s hard to say much about this novel, because it feels important to preserve some of the revelations for emotional impact. Tom is an unreliable narrator, and entire passages will be undermined by the realization that the previous pages have been nothing more than a dream. Children and circumstances seem ethereal, it’s unclear at times who is really alive and who is a figment of Tom’s grieving mind.
So many trigger warnings. This novel deals with child abuse, including sexual abuse, violence, murder, addiction, death. It felt difficult to hold onto the thread of the plot, with digressions and revelations always threatening to pull the reader away. Much of the book avoids directly explaining what is happening, it’s just many dark currents, until Tom confronts reality. Oh, be careful with your heart if you dare to read this one.