Monday, 16 October 2017

Naming the Stars – A duo companion with Two Moons by Jennifer Johnston


One of Ireland's best-loved novelists returns with a haunting novella of love, loss and memory

Flora's father has been killed in the Battle of El Alamein, one of the many victims of the Second World War. For Flora and her mother, life will never be the same again.
Now, it's just Flora - and Nellie, the family's life-long housekeeper - left; to reminisce in old age, and what really happened between Flora and her brother, Eddie, at the end of that long Irish summer.

Appearing now with Jennifer Johnston's classic novel, TWO MOONS

In a house overlooking Dublin Bay, Mimi and her daughter Grace are disturbed by the unexpected arrival of Grace's daughter and her boyfriend. While Grace's visitors focus her attention on an uncertain future, Mimi must begin to set herself to rights with the betrayals and disappointments of the past.


Naming the Stars

A story about the price and consequences of promises kept and shared.

This is a deeply sad story, even if it doesn’t quite read that way. Flora and Nellie only rarely, and for short periods of time, allow the heartache each of them experienced to colour their moments. Most of the time they float along on a stream of long established habits; pushing away thoughts and truths that might disturb their quiet existence.

On the night described in this novella, they commemorate the last time they saw Eddie, decades earlier. He was Flora’s brother and Nellie’s secret crush and betrayed both of them in ways he was unaware of, shaping their lives while he threw his own life away. This night, for reasons that are neither explained nor obvious, they share their feelings and secrets, almost destroying the decades long and mostly artificial equilibrium between them.

The events Flora shares with Nellie are shocking and heartbreaking, and yet they are revealed in an almost emotionless manner, as if lives lost, denied, and thrown away are hardly worth mentioning. Because, the secret shared is of course one that some would say should never see the light of day.

This is the sort of story you’ll read with relative ease only for its full impact to hit you after you’ve closed the book. Only then do all the ‘what if’s’ and ‘if only’s’ hit you with full force, leaving you feeling heartbroken for all involved.

And yet, no matter how much this is a story of love, it is also a tale of human resilience and the power of our minds to keep us going. I think it will take me a few more days before I figure out whether this was a depressing or ultimately uplifting tale. Right now all I’m sure about is that it was memorable.

“I’ve always wondered why the Americans consider happiness to be a right; of course it isn’t. It’s a prize that comes, sometimes for no reason at all.”

Two Moons

Like Counting the Stars, Two Moons is a story about secrets, although maybe in a different form. Whereas in the novella the main character had a shocking secret to share, in this story it is Mimi who just before she dies at last learns the secret that condemned her marriage.

I don’t want to say too much about what that secret is or how it is to be revealed, except to say that it will be achieved through the advocacy of a most charming, Italian, angel. By the time the ‘secret’ was at last revealed on the page I had long since guessed its nature — correctly. But then again, I think maybe I was supposed to do so, the clues were there to be found, even if Mimi either didn’t see them or refused to recognise them.

There are so many betrayals in this book; between husband and wife, mother and daughter, boyfriend and girlfriend. The characters face a constant battle between right and wrong, their own needs versus those of others, obligations versus desires. And yet, this is by no means a heavy book, nor is it depressing. It is a gentle tale in which potentially shocking occurrences float by, barely noteworthy and yet so very significant.

I like the touch of magical realism in this story. Mimi’s visitations can’t be written off as hallucinations, or signs of a crumbling mind, even if that’s what they appear to be at first.

“Do you mean to say that you are merely a figment of my imagination?”
“I never suggested any such thing. Some voice in you called and I came.”

I loved that the angel who may not have been an angel, left physical proof of his presence behind. It gave the story yet another layer of intrigue and, at times, a whimsical quality.

Also like its companion story, Two Moons is the sort of story to stick with you. It reveals all its various layers slowly; one after the other. I have no doubt that this story too will continue to play on mind for days to come.

Overall I have to say that I’m delighted I picked this book for my reading group this month. I had no idea what to expect before I started reading and was very pleasantly surprised by what I found between the covers. And I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll have to read more of Johnston’s books; her well written, easy to read, yet thought-provoking stories do strike a chord in me.

No comments:

Post a Comment