A wife cast adrift after her husband's disappearance
Fiction: Finding Alison, Deirdre Eustace, Black and White Publishing, pbk, 297 pages, €10.99
After the success in 2009 of her bestselling debut novel, If I Trust in You, which won her a Publishing Ireland Book of the Month award, Deirdre Eustace has kept readers waiting quite a while for this second, beautifully-crafted book.
Eustace is originally from Bonmahon, Co Waterford. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in various publications in Ireland, the UK and America over the past 20 years. The author's work has also been broadcast on national radio.
Set in the fictional Waterford seaside town of Carniskey, Finding Alison is about redemption. A host of well-drawn characters deal with grief, loss, betrayal and eventual healing but with lots of twists and turns along the way. The sea plays a huge part in the story, almost functioning as a protagonist in its own right.
When Alison's fisherman husband, Sean, disappears during a storm, the whole village is stricken at the loss and Alison is left to care for their 10-year-old daughter Hannah and her mother-in-law, Maryanne.
Two people know more about that night - Maryanne, who hasn't spoken since someone broke into her house shortly afterwards, and Joe, a simple young lad who adored Sean.
Over the next three years, her best friend Kathleen is stalwart in her support but Alison starts to become more unhinged in her grief and starts drinking too much wine alone. She is also finding it difficult to deal with the now teenage Hannah.
Alison's sister, Claire, suggests a change of scenery for Hannah, inviting her to stay for the summer in London. With her daughter safely packed off, William, a mysterious stranger, arrives in town and slowly a friendship develops between him and Alison. This leads to small-town gossip and even animosity.
Both William and Kathleen seem to be keeping secrets and, as the plot develops, it becomes more riveting and sometimes even sinister. It seems that Sean had secretly left a trail of disaster in his wake before his disappearance.
Kathleen has been living a lie for several years and when she receives a phone call, her secret will have to come out, threatening her own happiness and Alison's, too.
Meanwhile in London, Hannah is growing up and finding herself. By the time she returns to Carniskey at the end of the summer, William has helped Alison find renewal and she has eased his tragic circumstances. In the final denouement, Sean's memory is put to rest but with a major twist.
Finding Alison is a thought-provoking piece, elegant and enigmatic, with a lyrical style to be savoured slowly.
Eustace is a master of her craft and a gifted storyteller. With a skilful plot and memorable characters, readers should find it captivating and worth the long wait.