Friday 15 December 2017

Review: Fiction: Still Waters by Linda Kavanagh

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Linda Kavanagh, above, prefers the suspense genre because it's what she is good at and, as she says in an interview at the end of her novel, it is what her readers expect.

Still Waters, her sixth novel, confirms that suspense continues to be her forte. There are no guns here but the flawed psychological mindsets of her characters that do as much damage as any lethal weapon.

The protagonists at the heart of her story are Ivy and Danny, whose youthful decisions haunt their adult lives.

At the outset, they are carefree teenagers who live in small-town Ireland and romp, smoke and flirt by a lake after school hours. Ivy loves Danny's brother Joe, her friend Rosa loves Danny and Danny loves Ivy.

That scenario changes when Ivy becomes pregnant and marries Danny. The fallout is that Rosa feels rejected and moves to London and Joe disappears after a row with his father.

Ivy and Danny have ambitions and they, too, move to London where she becomes a soap star, he founds a chain of supermarkets and they enjoy a seemingly blissful marriage.

But nothing is as it appears. And Ivy and Danny's past mistakes gradually wear them down. They conceal their problems under a composed exterior and present as normal when visiting the older folk left at home. But the folk at home see nothing normal. Joe's parents wonder why he never returned after the row. And Rosa's mother can't understand why Rosa writes but never visits. These mysteries are central to the narrative.

Kavanagh captures the loneliness of parents when their children emigrate; their silent suffering, their stress-related illnesses, their dying while wondering where they went wrong.

Still Waters is plot-driven with twists and turns that keep the reader on edge from early on. In a smoke-screen effect, the characters inhabit a world of lies and confusion. The narrative alternates between the past and present, constantly showing how previous actions lead to current crises.

Ivy and Danny try to save their conventional marriage from the secrets that strangle it but the skeletons in their cupboards eventually burst out and are made flesh in the strangest of places.

Marlene Lyng

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