Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Emma's Review: The Anniversary by Roisin Meaney

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Three couples. One weekend. Everything is about to change...

Lily and Charlie separated after twenty-six years of marriage. Now, with their divorce due to come through in a matter of months, Lily, newly engaged to the dependable Joe, decides to get the whole family together for one last weekend at Land's End, their old summer home by the sea. Lily has to break some news to Charlie, her daughter Poll and son Thomas -- news she knows they're not going to be happy about.

But as the family makes their way to Land's End with their new partners, Lily's best laid plans are about to go awry.

As Charlie's much younger girlfriend Chloe guards her own secret, Poll seems intent on sabotaging her apparently perfect relationship, while Thomas wrestles with a decision he knows could break his family apart.

And amid the drama, they've forgotten that this weekend also just happens to be Lily and Charlie's wedding anniversary ...

Will all the couples survive the weekend intact?

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Many thanks to Hachette Books Ireland for my copy of The Anniversary to review via NetGalley and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

The cover for Roisin Meaney's new book The Anniversary is simple but so inviting. I love books by this author and have always felt she is vastly under-rated and deserves much more attention. This story drew me in from the very beginning and I read it in two sittings. It centres around three couples all closely connected and how one weekend will change their lives forever but will it be for the better or worse?

Each chapter is told from a different characters perspective, sometimes I find this confusing and that it can jar the overall development and pace of the book but here it worked seamlessly. We were presented with each characters viewpoints and opinions on the situation unfolding and it allowed the reader to get inside said characters head. When reading Lily's perspective for example, I found myself forming firm opinions based on what she was saying and thinking but then then in the next chapter if it was based on Poll, I found myself swaying more in her direction.

It's clear this weekend away as organised by matriarch Lily will provide a life changing experience for all involved. It's time for everything to come out in the open whether people want to hear certain things or not. For too long the characters have been stuck in a rut of silent contemplation, of simmering tensions and resentments. Words, opinions and feelings that need to be out in the open fester away silently until perhaps boiling point will be reached. Will everything explode in one big outpouring of release or will the weekend away in a place that means so much work its magic and bit by bit slowly ever so slowly secrets will spill forth as in a trickle where everyone can absorb the change at a pace that suits them?

Lily Murphy is the principal of a secondary school. She is efficient and respected but not very much liked by her staff. Her marriage to Charlie had broken up several years before and her children Poll and Thomas are now adults and more than capable of looking after themselves. As we meet Lily, I felt the author had totally nailed her job as she describes the day to day tasks involved and all the flack that goes with being a principal and running a school. Lily wasn't there to make friends she was there to do a job to the best of her abilities. But Lily has more on her mind than her job, she is returning to Land's End for a long weekend with her family. She has something to impart to them and she feels they won't like what they are about to hear. Initially I thought she was talking about Land's End in England but it soon became apparent that Land's End is her family home on the coast of Ireland in a secluded setting. Lily was raised there as was her mother who never left the family home until the day she was brought to a nursing home.

Land's End is clearly very important to all the characters. It holds a special place in their hearts and many memories have been created there over the years. The house and the surrounding area became like a character in itself the more the story developed. It's like the characters were drawn here for everything to finally come out in the open, to seek peace, resolution, clarity and forgiveness in order to move on with the next stage of their lives.

Lily was hiding something throughout much of the story. I sensed that a big reveal, some earth shattering news would come but for me that  moment never did appear. I felt slightly let down in this sense but on reflection it was more subtly woven throughout the story that the ending didn't really need fireworks so to speak. Throughout the book there was a pervading sense of calmness, a slow and steady pace and for everything to go boom would have ruined the overall tone that I felt was being established. There was a real focus on character development and getting to know what makes them tick providing vary perspectives on the same developing situation.

Going back to a house that holds so many memories for Lily is very challenging and I think she arrived there with some clear set down intentions of what she wanted to achieve from the weekend. But she didn't take into account the thoughts and needs of others. Her mother had recently died and I don't think she was thinking straight, and with ex Charlie bringing the younger model that is Chloe to stay that will surely set the cat among the pigeons. I did find it odd given how the breakdown of their marriage occurred that Charlie was still very much a part of family events, I wouldn't have let him near Land's End at all considering the damage he had down. I was fully on Poll's side with the way she felt towards Chloe. She had ripped apart a family unit and the fact she was so much younger than Charlie and that at one stage she had been his student at music college didn't do much to endear me to her at all.

Poll to me seemed disturbed and tormented, she had no confidence in herself. She was a brilliantly written character and the demons and voices she has running constantly through her head just made me feel for her all the more. It's hard for someone who hasn't felt like Poll to identify with her but the author did such an excellent job of conveying Poll and her approach and viewpoints on life and romance. Poll is afraid of love and relationships, she feels she doesn't deserve happiness or love at all in her life. As soon as things go that little bit deeper in a relationship she is out of there as fast as she can. It's confusing and upsetting but there had to have been a reason behind it all. Pottery and the heads she makes are her salvation but boyfriend Aidan hopes he too can become her rock, support and strength but will the fear strike again and Aidan will be pushed to the side? Poll was plagued and pestered by the feelings of doubt and I just wanted her to allow herself to be happy considering how much she loved Aidan.

Thomas was the most vulnerable of the characters. He seemed lost and just plodding along in life working in a café run by Freda. Thomas was hiding something big that could tear the family apart if it came to light. As a reader I thought what he was feeling was complicated and wrong. There was something else right in front of his eyes that he should have gone for but maybe the weekend away will change his viewpoint for the better and steer him away from the direction he was veering in. The incident in the car on the way down was shocking and perhaps gave him the wake up call he needed. As for Charlie and Chloe, I really didn't like either of them. Charlie seemed very much led and dictated by Chloe, I couldn't understand how he would have broken up his family for her.

Again another incident in the car as they travel to Land's End occurred but god it was just bizarre to say the least and I don't think it even needed to be in the book at all. I know I was meant to feel some sympathy and a wavering of my strong viewpoint that I had formed early on of Chloe as we discover what is forcing her to act the way she does but I didn't at all. I thought she was rude, self centred, obnoxious and I couldn't understand why Charlie pandered to her and made excuses for her carry on. She created a lot of the tension at Land's End with her retorts, barbs and wise remarks thrown back and forth particularly between herself and Poll. I wouldn't have blamed Lily for thinking why did I bother bringing everyone together in the first place when all it has created in discord and anger rather than peace and acceptance.

The Anniversary provides the reader with an astute observation of a family gathering over one weekend. The timeframe is brief and concise but the author does pack an awful lot into those few days. I thought the journey to get to Land's End to have all the characters to arrive took quite some time to occur but in a way it did provide an insight into each character. By the time they arrived we knew their stance and their situation but I just wish this had been curtailed a bit so more focus could have been given on the time at the house. The last few chapters felt slightly rushed and it was a pity given all the brilliant development that had occurred up until that point. But pushing these issues aside I can safely say I thoroughly enjoyed The Anniversary and that Roisin Meaney has once again done herself proud and written a book that should feature on many people's reading lists for this summer. Will the weekend destroy already fractured relationships or will Land's End allow all involved to finally find what they have been searching for? You'll only discover the answers if you do yourselves a favour and buy this book.

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