Reviewed by Emma Crowley
It's their twenty-year school reunion but the Plunkett sisters have their own reasons for not wanting to attend ...
Caroline, now a successful knitwear designer, spends her time flying between her business in England and her lover in Italy. As far as she's concerned, her school days, and what happened to her the year she left, should stay in the past.
Eleanor, meanwhile, is unrecognisable from the fun-loving girl she was in school. With a son who is barely speaking to her, and a husband keeping a secret from her, revisiting the past is the last thing on her mind.
But when an unexpected letter arrives for Caroline in the weeks before the reunion, memories are stirred.
Will the sisters find the courage to return to the town where they grew up and face what they've been running from all these years?
Róisin Meaney is a vastly under rated Irish author who in my opinion deserves much more recognition. She is a gifted storyteller who has the knack of drawing you in from the very first page and doesn't relinquish her grip until you have satisfyingly read the last word. I really enjoy her writing and believe she gets better and better with each new book published. I particularly love her series set on the island of Roone off the Irish coast. I recommended these books to a friend who had heard of the author but something was stopping her picking one up but soon like me she was hooked and could see the wide appeal of Róisin Meaney. Apart from the books set on the island I have fallen in love with each of the books she has written and this new book The Reunion jumped out at me the moment I saw the cover revealed on Twitter. It was so summery and inviting and demanded you pick it up and indulge in a truly heartfelt story that was beautifully written.
The title suggests the sole focus of this book will be on a reunion but more or less straight away we figure out that this is not the case. Normally when a book suggests from the title what the plot will be about I rely on the fact that this will be the case, when it turns out not to be the way I find this very frustrating and misleading. But here I didn't mind in the slightest as the arrival of an invitation for a twenty year old reunion for sisters Caroline and Eleanor is the spark that leads to the past coming into the present with secrets about to be revealed and feelings and emotions long buried coming to the surface. Confrontations and acceptance need to be addressed and the sisters will see tough times and things they wished hidden come to the fore. The Reunion proved to be a skillful piece of work that had such depth and substance and proved hard to put down once I had started.
Eleanor is married to Gordon Fennelly and they have a teenage son Jacob. Living in Galway they run a successful restaurant but times are tough in this economic climate and Gordon spends most of his time away from the house attempting to keep the restaurant afloat. The reader can sense early on that despite the distinctive age gap between the couple they hold a deep love and respect for each other but they are struggling to express this amidst a sadness that permeates the house and the lives of the people who live in it. Eleanor is hiding and affected by something that happened many years ago yet still she carries the burden to this day. This is affecting their son Jacob who is sullen, uncommunicative and disconnected from his mother. Eleanor just feels she is going through the motions, the bright, vibrant woman that Gordon fell in love with is no longer there and she is also battling with her weight. Truly Eleanor is not a happy woman and it's made clear from the first chapter. As we delve deeper into her background and the reasons become apparent the reader feels such empathy with her and hopes after all this time that she can express what she is going through and find the help she needs to climb out of this pit of despair that has plagued her for so long. 'There's nothing left of what she and Gordon had nothing except Jacob to hold them together, for however long he does'. Will the invitation to see people she has not heard from in twenty years prove the catalyst for change that she needs even if she can't see it herself?
Caroline is living in London with a distant older cousin of the family Florence. Now a successful knitwear designer she is enjoying a relationship with Italian Matteo that is carefree as she only sees him when she visits on work trips. Again like Eleanor the reader comes to understand fairly early on that Caroline has been through heartbreak and tragedy and is still suffering. Things have been hidden and brushed over for too long and need to come to light and be acknowledged and talked about. There is an air of sadness and melancholy surrounding our two main protagonists they are stuck in the past at a period of time which lead to great change and emotional upheaval which is preventing them from enjoying and embracing the present and looking forward to the future. Caroline is a woman who has been deeply hurt by the action of others and when her secret is revealed you can't help but feel empathy for the situation she found herself in many years ago. In fact the author does such a good job of setting the scene and explaining how the characters have reached the point they find themselves in today that your emotions are torn in two as to whether it is Eleanor or Caroline you are meant to have the most inclination towards.
A clever aspect used by the author for part one of the novel was to take us back in time to 1993 when all the emotional upheaval and events occurred. It gave the reader great insight as to the background of the story. I did at one stage feel this section was becoming slightly too long but just as I had reached saturation point we were taken back to the present and all the emotional turmoil and upset came spilling out and was written which such compassion that you couldn't fail to be moved. Although Caroline is a year older than Eleanor as they were growing up she was always the sensible one, who studied hard and was determined to do well in her exams and get a good job. Eleanor was carefree, not that interested in school rather more interested in a local boy Andrew who in turn broke her heart. But what happens to Caroline turns everything on its head and she is viewed as the one who lost the plot, brought disgrace on both herself and the family and she will never be viewed in the same light. Without going into further detail the way Caroline was treated was abhorrent, surely at a time like that your family are the ones who should be by your side defending you, supporting you and offering as much comfort and solace as possible. The girls mother was despicable and I know this was the way Irish Mammys reacted but in 1993 I would have thought this was really gone by the wayside. She seemed to have a 1950's attitude as opposed a more modern day way of thinking about things. But maybe I am really naive in thinking this could be the case. The way the whole situation was dealt with was just despicable to me and poor Eleanor had to cope with the fallout and become the darling girl her mother had wished Caroline could be. I'd have to say that the girls Dad was a gent and I could see he was backed into a corner under pressure from his wife and really just wanted everything to be OK for his darling girl. If I had been in Caroline's situation I would have hoped for more support and that my family would be understanding and try to help me overcome the situation in the best way possible. Florence was a shining star throughout this book and without her Caroline would have been lost. She was never pushy but always there when needed and I wished she could have been a relative of mine as you knew she would offer the biggest cuddle just at the right time.
The Reunion really is a powerful book that clearly Róisin Meaney put her heart and soul into writing as the emotions leap from the page and I felt part two really upped the ante and took the story to another level. I had such respect for Eleanor and how she finally has the tenacity to confront everything as she realised the world was slipping her by. In fact and I don't say this lightly she inspired me in a way not because I endured the same circumstances she found herself in but that she found the courage to get up and do something to change her life. That anything is possible, the first step maybe the hardest but after that it gets a little bit easier day by day. Caroline too worked towards finding a resolution but it was Eleanor who really struck a chord with me in the later half of the novel. As I've said before the fact the reunion barely featured didn't bother me in the slightest it was more the thing for the story to come to light but it was nicely slipped in ever so briefly towards the end and it was apt for the time in the book. Róisin Meaney should be proud of the book she has written, it was absorbing from beginning to end and will deeply satisfy her fans and hopefully new readers will discover this Irish talent.The number thirteen may be unlucky for some but book thirteen proved to be a triumph for Róisin Meaney and here's to many more.
Many thanks to Hachette Ireland for my copy of The Reunion to review via NetGalley and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.