This is my review of Solace by Belinda McKeon.
The following is an attempt to analyse why a book which has been well reviewed so far disappointed me.
This slow-paced novel commences with descriptions of places – the Irish countryside – and small incidents – buying a ball of twine. The reader is left to work out who the main protagonists are, what the characters are like and what is going on, and that is fine. We meet Tom the farmer, his son Mark who has returned to assist him, with an infant daughter Aoife in tow. Where is the child's mother? Is Mark's excessive anger over his father taking the child with him to buy twine without telling him a cover for some deeper-seated resentment? There are all the ingredients for the unwinding of some moving Irish tale and my expectations are suitably kindled, but nothing much happens over and above what is given away on the flyleaf.
As the book progresses, I find it hard to engage with any of the characters. I think this is because the differences in their personalities are not very clearly drawn and sustained. The most dramatic incidents seem strangely muted. The description of someone discovering she is pregnant, another of someone dying in an accident – the events and people's reactions, none of this moves me as it should. Likewise the old grievance between the fathers of Mark and Joanne does not strike me with sufficient force, given the flyleaf's reference to "spectacular…wrongs" and "betrayal". I think part of the problem is that, once the book gets under way, there is too much "telling" rather than "showing". Also, events seem too disjointed.
Pehaps the plot is too slight to sustain a book of this length in the absence of a strong narrative drive. I feel that I am reading the words of someone with an ambition to write, who loves putting words down on paper or the keyboard but does not as yet have much to say.
Yes, the simplicity is to be admired, but needs to provide new insights or find ways of expressing truths that we cannot produce for ourselves.
For examples of "less is more" I cite the work of the late Brian Moore and also William Trevor.