RELEASED in bookshops across Ireland today, October 8, this is a book about hope and its transformative and redeeming qualities. The book begins and ends with Annie O’Reilly, who is set to celebrate her 60th birthday and marry Matt McCarthy on the same day. Their time was never right, always missing each other by moments with their lives moving in different directions over the years. In college many years before, Matt visited her in Limerick and together they sat out the back courtyard of the dilapidated student accommodation eating tomato sandwiches, while he asked her on a date.
Annie declined, the love she had for Jason, coupled with the growing baby in her stomach, paving a pathway for her in life where Matt had no role. Jason was not to be, the baby was not to be, and teaching college was no longer where Annie belonged. Annie’s road took her home, away from her housemate Cora, without a baby and with the perceived disgrace she had brought on the family palpable in its silence.
Brenda, a former school teacher of Annie’s offered her a chance, an opportunity for fulfillment and an outlet for the love Annie had in abundance. So she helped Brenda to establish a pre-school in her home, the home which is left to Annie after Brenda’s death. It was this start in life, this intense belief that put Annie on her lifelong path of fostering children. Roisin Meaney developed the nurturing theme throughout, beautifully portraying the reality that it is often those outside of the home who see us best, and who offer us a way forward.
On the day of her wedding, her first foster child, her last foster child, and the foster child she raised from a baby all returned to her. As adults, they have travelled to the corners of the world and on stepping foot into the home which raised them, they find they have the freedom to unpack their individual mental baggage and assess it.
Annie’s second chance allowed her to offer that second chance to countless other children as they passed through her doors. Julia, Eddie and Steph stand in the house where they were shaped, which is about to be sold, and the tides of nostalgia engulf them.
Roisin Meaney writes in such a warm way, her words are comforting and the images they create are oftentimes haunting. This is a postcard perfect novel, there is Christmas, snow, home cooking and a wedding. Scratching below the surface of that postcard utopia uncovers pain, abandonment, death and disappointment.
We are all products of our childhood for better or worse, and the healing which sometimes needs to happen comes from the strength of those who believe in us. Cora offered that belief from the beginning for Annie, Brenda saw her potential, and although her parents were bitterly disappointed at an unplanned pregnancy, their small gestures of kindness thereafter showed that they were a product of their culture, while filled with love and fear for their child. Annie offered that belief to all who walked in her doors, and the far-reaching impact of that is breath-taking. The first of the 2020 Christmas reads was beautiful.