This book was first published in 1989. Like many of her previous books’ winning formula, she uses a single setting to bind the stories of various people together. In this case, it is the silver wedding anniversary party of Deirdre and Desmond organized by their children. The story starts with Anna, their eldest daughter, follows by chapters on Brendon and Helen, and the other people who had been invited. Through them, one not only learns about the children, but also gets a glimpse of their perception of their parents.
Parents expect a lot of their children. It’s the same whether it is a 1985 Irish family or Indian family, or for that matter, 2011 Singaporean family – like some kind of ‘score card’ for parents, ‘points for this and points for that.’ Deirdre had thought she had disappointed her parents by marrying poor Desmond (out-of-wedlock but no one knew as she had a miscarriage) instead of making use of her honours degree to rake out a career. She was also disappointed by her children’s choice of lifestyle (Anna working in a bookshop, Brendan running off to Ireland to tend to a farm and Helen becoming a nun) despite a wall full of hypocritical photographs showcasing her pride and their closeness during important events.
BM’s sly observation of ordinary people is what captivates me to her books.
On her description of how housewife Deirdre feels : She felt drab and unattractive. She looked like the middle-age housewife from the suburbs, married to a not very successful man, no job to exercise her mind, not enough money to dress herself properly.
On marriage : So many of her friends had settled for men whom they could not possibly loved in any real sense. These were not great loves,….they were alliances, refuges, compromises, arrangements. (Sounds like your marriage?)
On what Brendan thinks: Brendan had arrived in London early, off the boat train in Euston. It coincided with the morning rush hour. He stood watching for a quarter of an hour while the commuter population of that part of London buzzed and scuttled and darted up ramps and down stairs, down to taxi lines, in to grab a quick breakfast standing at a counter, leaping onto escalators. They looked so self-important, he thought, as if whatever petty job they were racing to were important, as if they were people of substance. And this is what his father and mother would like him to be doing….It was a preposterous way to live, and all to be able to say to someone that this was success.
Bee had read this book and had passed it to me, saying, ‘ you should find this all very relevant.’ (My own silver wedding is in two years.)
She knows me so well. I may be just a little bit like Deirdre, using my kids as score cards and being disappointed by the results. Do I need my sons to be working at Shenton Way to brag that they are successful? A drappy housewife, did I marry out of passionate love or just compromises?
hmm…food for thought.