Reviewed by Emma Crowley
A tragic accident leaves the tight-knit book club in the small seaside town of Fairweather reeling. Then stranger Tom McLysaght arrives in the community, and the members of the club find their lives changing in ways they never could have imagined.
None of them realise that Tom is hiding a secret. On the surface, his move to Fairweather was to escape his highflying life in London and to put some much-needed distance between him and his ex-fiancée - but deep down Tom knows that there are some things he cannot run from.
As the months pass with book club gatherings, secrets are shared and hurts begin to heal. New friendships might be the last thing on their minds but the members of the book club are about to discover that opening themselves up to other people might be the only thing that will help them all to live, and to love, again.
The Book Club is yet again another wonderful read from Roisin Meaney, a vastly under-rated author in my mind who deserves far more attention and acclaim. Of course a book that has book club in the title will make voracious readers want to read this story but it’s not your typical read in this genre based around book club meetings. Instead the monthly book club is the catalyst that brings a group of unlikely people together who all live in the same coastal village in Ireland. It’s not the direct focus of the book and just for a short time I felt I wanted more about the book club - what they were reading, how they felt about each book etc. But then I came to realise it really didn’t need to be an extremely strong focal point as the characters and their own personal stories, triumphs, tragedies, difficulties, sorrows, pain and anger begin to emerge and intertwine and an incredible story of friendship unfolds. One in which I quickly became completely caught up in and felt every bit of each character’s emotions all of whom were so brilliantly portrayed and represented whether they had major or minor roles to play.
Tom arrives from London to the village of Fairweather in Co. Kerry on a bleak January day. He has leased a house for six months in the hopes that he can shift gear and start afresh. He wishes his life to take an entirely new direction and has left so much behind that he questions whether he has the energy to begin this new stage in his life? Instantly you can sense a wariness and loneliness surrounding Tom, that something heart-breaking and life changing has befallen him and really you just want to embrace him and tell him that everything will turn out OK. That life has drawn him to this special village for a reason and all the answers he seeks might be there if he searches deep enough for them. I desperately wanted to know what had happened to him to make him up sticks and leave a high paid, high flying job in the big city. It’s only over time that we get the answers and I loved the pacing of this, it wasn’t dragged out nor are the same time was it rushed in anyway. A perfect balance was struck, just enough to keep the reader intrigued but yet not frustrated at the lack/slow response to the many questions that arise as you delve further into the book. You feel empathy for Tom but sense that the people he will meet in Fairweather could perhaps change his life and that friends are the people you make for life, that are so important in guiding your hand through the good times and bad.
Beth O’Sullivan is renting the house to Tom. It belongs to her granddaughter Lil who is living with her. The reasons for this living situation become apparent quite quickly although specifics are kept until just the pivotal point when the reader needs to know and when this occurs an even deeper understanding is afforded to the reader. Beth seems cold and standoffish so much so that Tom treads warily around her in fear of doing the wrong thing that could upset or set her off. She lacks warmth for others and can be judged as unfeeling. There must be a reason for Beth acting this way and as we get to know her it’s clear she conceals such deep pain, suffering and anguish but that at all times she wants to do her best by Lil and protect her. Despite Beth doing her best for the community and her family she really is a tortured soul whom you wish for some peace and relief for.
Lil has been through so much and the shock of an event has left her mute. Deep down she probably can speak but when she tries no words come out. She is very much an understated character in the fact she cannot express herself but in so many others ways she is so so powerful. Sometimes we say the most when we say nothing at all. She spends her days knitting and communicating on a notepad in the library Beth has established at the bottom of her garden. It’s a community library operated on a trust basis that Beth founded due to the lack of libraries in their area. Books are stamped and given out with no return date. Beth and Lil have faith that the books will be returned and it’s this unique concept that sees Tom begin to interact with Lil and eventually he joins the book club.
Both the book club and the library offer distractions and support in equal measure for all the characters. The library is a centre point for the village and without it Lil would even be more of a recluse than she already is. You just feel desperately sad for both herself and Beth. Perhaps more so for Lil as there is such a melancholy and wistfulness about her that you would like to break through in order to help her heal and take the first tentative steps towards a freedom of sorts. She was a brilliantly drawn character who I felt we got to know more so through the other characters and it’s a sign of a great author who can make you feel this way about a character who is not out there and in your face and able to express all their opinions and feelings.
I would say Tom, Beth and Lil are the main characters but there are plenty of secondary characters too. Often I find these minor characters play needless roles and are there merely as filler ins but here every character was so perfectly placed and had such important and life changing roles to play. Olive Purcell is married to Fred and runs her own gift shop. She is a doer and a pleaser and is happy in her life after adopting Nancy who is now 13 but now changes are afoot. Can she cope with the worry, upheaval and stress that is about to ensue? I loved how Olive looked after everybody else and that she sensed something about Tom, that he needed looking after and her unique little way of doing this was so just so special and magical. She liked managing things, sorting people out and fixing things but can she fix the problems that arise when some news emerges? Mark, Fred’s father, has his own little role to play in the overall story. I did guess what he was up to and when it was confirmed I found it just the sweetest thing ever.
Fairweather itself was so vividly described and I could picture all the places, shops etc that the characters visited. Again, as with Roisin’s previous books set in Roone, Fairweather has become a place that I wish was real so I could visit it and meet these people who got under my skin and still now they linger on in my mind. I loved how the story developed over the course of several months and the moods of the characters altered with the changing of the seasons. It began in darkness in winter and ended in summer but do all the characters find what they are looking for in the brightness of summer?
A line on the cover suggests 'friendship may be the only thing that can save them' and this incredible, magnificent story certainly explores this statement to absolute perfection. Roisin Meaney has done herself proud and written another stunning story that readers that old and new will fall in love with just as much as I did. Personally I felt at the end that there is room for another story set in Fairweather. I’m not ready to leave these characters behind and I hope Roisin will bring us more from this setting. I have my fingers crossed.