MAINE by COURTNEY SULLIVAN

How is it possible to finish reading such a marvellous book like “Maine” and then be able to come up with nothing but clichés when trying to describe it?

Sweeping, dramatic, epic, saga – oh dear, oh dear, such hackneyed terms, and yet they all fit the bill.

For “Maine” is indeed an epic, sweeping tale of a family over the generations, and it is a fabulously good read to boot.  At the literal and physical heart of the story is a holiday home on the beach in Maine, where Alice, her late husband Daniel, their children and now their grandchildren traditionally spend the summer months.  The cottage occupies a central part in the psyche of Alice’s adult children, who bring to their holidays in Maine (regulated now on a roster basis, by bossy Pat and his super efficient wife Ann Marie) memories of childhood holidays, and the accompanying emotional baggage of secrets and jealousy and resentment.

Alice is the matriarch of the Kelleher clan, a family that still prides itself on its Irish heritage, which they celebrate in noisy, alcoholic fashion whenever the occasion permits.

As summer approaches, and the families once again begin to make their preparations for the holidays, we are drawn deeper and deeper into their tangled web of memory and truth, of stories and lies and deceits and secrets. For this family has secrets aplenty, which eat away at them.

We keep changing perspectives, seeing life through the eyes of the main female protagonists –  Alice, her daughter Kathleen, her daughter-in-law Ann Marie, and Kathleen’s daughter Maggie.  Each of these women has a secret, and our privileged-and-changing perspective allows us to know what the other women do not.  We see how they understand each other, but also how they wilfully misunderstand each other, too.  We see clearly, whilst they cannot, how closely love and hate are intemingled, and how easy it is to misunderstand someone’s words and motives for many years.  They all perceive each other quite differently, often with sad consequences.

Alice makes a decision about the cottage which will affect everyone, for this is a home that keeps drawing them all back, year after year, despite their disagreements and differences.

I have said in other book reviews that one doesn’t have to “be” of, or from a place, to enjoy a story, even though insider knowledge definitely adds to one’s enjoyment of a book.  The insider knowledge I enjoyed in this book, was the strong Irish Catholic leitmotiv, that both binds the family together whilst often repelling them at the same time.

There were passages that rang so true:

photo 3

The writer has a brilliantly keen ability to observe people and describe them perfectly :

photo 1

I loved this vignette of a foreigner living in New York:

photo 2

Family, secrets, the cottage, the church, marriage, alcohol – all these themes flow through the book, binding and also separating these women (for the book is essentially about the women of this family):

photo 5

 

photo 4

 

The men of the family are there, present and correct, but you always feel that the real burden of the business of keeping families going, and of the cottage, and of keeping the secrets hidden safely away, falls always to the women :

photo

 

This is a lovely long read, to be devoured.

Personally and very enthusiastically recommended.

 

If after reading this review, you wish to buy this great novel, nothing could be simpler.  Simply click on the link below : 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.