Solace - Belinda McKeon

Genre: Fiction
Synopsis: Mark Casey has left home, the rural Irish community where his family has farmed the same land for generations, to study for a doctorate in Dublin, a vibrant, contemporary city full of possibility. To his father, Tom, who needs help baling the hay and ploughing the fields, Mark's pursuit isn't work at all, and indeed Mark finds himself whiling away his time with pubs and parties. His is a life without focus or responsibility, until he meets Joanne Lynch, a trainee solicitor whom he finds irresistible. Joanne too has a past to escape from and for a brief time she and Mark share the chaos and rapture of a new love affair, until the lightning strike of tragedy changes everything.


Review: Oh, this book. This book was beautiful. I bought it months ago, to represent Longford in my Irish Counties Challenge, but for some reason it took me until now to get around to reading it. I even started it, once, around the time of purchase, and then put it back down. Perhaps I was waiting until I was in the right frame of mind. This is a subdued, almost melancholic extract from the intersection of several familial lives - primarily between farmer Tom Casey and his PhD student son Mark. It uses the common Irish cultural theme of traditional older generations (particularly those rural, small-towns) clashing with the aspirations and modern progression of the young as a broad backdrop to the more specific ins-and-outs of life for the Casey family, from the lead up to massive changes in their lives through a tragedy into the aftermath. The slow-paced, gentle writing itself is a stark contrast to the events of the novel, and I think this makes those events oddly both more shocking, and also easier to process.

There were a couple of points in this book which made me cry - and I will note here that I was in a fairly low frame of mind reading this, so it was pretty easy to make me cry, and I think my heightened emotional state exaggerated the impact this book had. That is not to say that the book itself is not powerful, it is, but it is a book you have to be willing to wade into and immerse yourself in. At least one of the moments that made me cry was a tentatively happy one - a description of Mark and Joanne tucking themselves away at home from the miserable weather with a subdued, almost melancholic kind of contentment on New Year's Eve.

I feel like McKeon has an insight into how different people think, and even more importantly in novel-writing, an ability to wholly and accurately convey the conflicts and emotions of being human in an unpredictable, sometimes tragic world. I'm a little biased because this is an Irish novel, set in the rural farmlands of Longford and the bustling city of Dublin, contexts which are culturally, if not directly, familiar to me, and the lyrical pose combined with a lilting pace which talks about how the Irish never talk (definitely an Irish trait), but I like to think this book could pull anyone in. I wasn't overly mad about any of the characters in particular, but I felt this book is more driven by emotions than by the characters experiencing them.

I am absolutely dying to read her second novel, Tender. Also, look at that cover. The painting continues round the back cover to show Dublin city off in the distance. Beautiful. Highly recommended. The book, not the cover. Enjoy.

Rating: 5/5

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