A group of people gather in a beautiful guest house in West Cork, Ireland, for a restorative stay. However, as life goes, they all bring secrets and issues which cannot be left behind simply with a change of geography. In fact, this is the place for facing demons.
Meanwhile in Tasmania, Lilian, widowed mother of one of the West Cork guests, Mick Fitzgerald, who has travelled from Ireland to mind the kids, has her own epiphany.
This stark description of plot does nothing to prepare the reader for the deep comfort to be derived from this compassionately written novel. Nor does it hint at the darkness at the core of some of this story, the understream of life-long and generational hurt caused by the patriarchy of the Catholic church, the judgemental society that saw unwed mothers institutionally abused and the scourge of domestic abuse and alcohol driven violence.
But it is indeed the bringing together of these two strands, the darkness and the light of the human condition, that makes A Week to Remember such a profoundly moving read.
Esther Campion is a skilled storyteller possessed of a supreme ability for building characters about whom we care. She astutely observes the emotions each character experiences – there is no emoting, simply a clear understanding of and empathy for human nature and the many vicissitudes of a normal life.
The evocation of landscape is another aspect of this book that allows the reader to feel her or himself thoroughly immersed in story and place. The coastal settings deftly reflect the darkness and light of the plot – in Tasmania Lilian goes boating and fishing and life lifts somehow, the need to honour the past and cling to memory augmented by an optimism about the present. In West Cork, there are storms and dark skies as our travelling guests unravel emotionally and beat their way through the tempests, figurative and real.
So much of the appeal of this book, for me, lies in the consciousness the author raises for us of the importance of kindness and of forgiveness. Each of our protagonists portrays that basic human thing – the need to love and be loved – though it takes them all a while to understand that this is what it’s all about.
Marriages dissolve and resolve, relationships with parents and old flames are clarified and mended, old wounds are laid bare and given healing plasters. There is drama, there is at last conversation, revelation, the telling of truth, there is discovery of self.
And for the reader there is that wonderful thing, a book into which one can fall like a feather bed – the spines of the feathers are certainly there and we feel them, but we take away the healing gentleness of the bigger experience.
Here is a writer whose characters are as real to us as our own circles and whose words are a balm. I look forward to reading more of Esther Campion.
Thank you to Hachette for the review copy.