Thursday 20 June 2019

Pin-sharp snapshot of three women and their secrets

Fiction: The Secrets of Primrose Square, Claudia Carroll, Zaffre, hardback, 416 pages, €16

Pain: Claudia Carroll is strong on loss and grief
Pain: Claudia Carroll is strong on loss and grief
The Secrets of Primrose Square by Claudia Carroll
Lorraine Courtney

Lorraine Courtney

Every sunbed needs a good tear-jerker of a read (or is that just me?) and this haunting book about what goes on behind closed doors is as beautiful as it is painful.

Nancy Thompson is running away from some messy gossip. The 32-year-old needs three things and she needs them fast: to get away from the tight-knit and incestuous theatre scene in London where everyone knows what happened; to start a brand new job with a clean slate; and, with any luck, to move on. She thinks she has burned all her bridges in London and moves to Dublin for a fresh start as an assistant director on a production of Pride and Prejudice.

Nancy finds a house-sitting position on Primrose Square and is ready for a new beginning but soon learns that her new neighbours have their own dramas and there's something about Sam Williams, her landlord, that doesn't quite add up.

Sam quickly seduces her. Nancy loves the way he makes her feel, so she overlooks the truth of their unhealthy attachment.

Another Primrose Square resident is Susan Hayes, who is grieving for her dead daughter, Ella. She thinks that Ella's boyfriend was to blame for her overdose and wants vengeance. Numbed by tranquillisers, she stands silently outside his home at night, even though the guards always arrive and move her along. Back home waits Susan's other daughter, 12-year-old Melissa, who misses her sister but is desperately trying to keep up appearances in front of social workers and their neighbours.

Then there's 66-year-old widow Jayne Dawson, at number 19, who knows things are falling apart for Susan and Melissa. Jayne is lonely herself, but she has just told her money-grabbing son Jason and his wife about her new online male "friend", ageing hippie Eric.

The book follows these figures through a few months of their lives and offers a pin-sharp snapshot of three women and a particular moment in time.

Their stories propel an enjoyable, if uneven, page-turner of a novel to its tidy conclusion.

Carroll is very strong on loss and the mourning process. She gives us a fresh, and honest examination of death and grieving through Susan's journal entries, which punctuate the book.

"I was incandescent by then," she writes, "incoherent with rage and grief. So I took the fight right to Josh Andrews' doorstep. It was like a mantra with me; I can never forget what that murdering bastard got you into, I kept saying. And so neither will he."

But there's also love, hope, friendship and humour, and we even get a peek into the world of Dublin theatre, although I'd hoped for a bit more insight from our actress-­author.

With the story told by multiple narrators, past events and secrets are revealed in gradual and, sometimes, surprising ways. There is so much to love about this book - its depiction of life's pain and problems, the search for belonging and how it feels to be a woman and a mother.

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