Saturday 10 December 2016

Gripping study of love and loss on both sides of Atlantic

Fiction: The Husband, Deirdre Purcell Hachette, €16.99

Published 14/11/2016 | 02:30

Author Deirdre Purcell has published her 13th novel. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Author Deirdre Purcell has published her 13th novel. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

A freelance journalist from Chicago, Marian Lescher is almost 42 years old when we meet her, stranded in an old manor house called Glanmilish in the Irish Midlands.

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She has been recently widowed. "Daniel is dead", whispers the weeping willow as it grazes the ground outside her rattling windows, in a garden soon to be engulfed by an incoming gale.

A stormy passion brought Marian to Ireland. The author intuitively explores the relationship between passion and stability through Marian's choice of husband number one and number two.

What appears as choice is often the contrary.

Like many solitary, intelligent women, Marian is preyed upon. Her vulnerability is not overt; it is perhaps nascent, being an only child, with an inquisitive mind, and too much time to think.

This is the 13th novel from Deirdre Purcell (pictured) set mostly in Chicago where Marian is caring for her elderly father.

His young doctor, Peter Black, makes weekly visits and a "fondness" develops between him and Marian.

Kindness and reliability are appealing at this point in her life. Never having had an "exciting" relationship, she is convinced this union will make an appropriate marriage.

Until one day, out of the blue, as is the nature of a coup de foudre, she is hit by a thunderbolt.

Not quite in the Sicilian manner of Michael Corleone, but nonetheless, the voice of Dr Daniel Lynch on TV is enriched with passion for saving children's lives and triggers a pulse in Marian that she never knew existed. From then on, her brain and body are working at odds, with a little voice at the back of her head directing her every move towards trying to meet him.

The rich detail of the windy city derives from Purcell's own knowledge of Chicago as a young student, where she met her first husband. The structure of the book is cleverly founded on Marian's ability as a journalist to shed light on the dark corners of an interview subject.

As such, she can get away with the kind of short, sharp sentences to characterise individuals, that would be less credible from just any lonely widow. The ubiquity of the internet can be the bane of fiction, but here Purcell ingeniously deploys Marian's use of search engines for exposition.

Typically, the frissons of her new-found passion with Daniel conceal the flickering warning lights, she fails to see the tell-tale signs of a man without empathy - even his sister describes him as a sociopath - and onset of the ultimate betrayal.

This is quite a study in human behaviour and a very gripping story.

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