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Time Fallen Away

Marie Rooney

The Weight of Love, by Hilary Fannin, Doubleday Ireland, 352 pp, £13.95, ISBN: 978-1781620458

A moving and beautifully written debut novel, The Weight of Love’s chapters alternate between 1995 London and 2018 Ireland. In 1995, Robin, teaching English in a London secondary school, meets Ruth, a special needs assistant in the same school. Both in their early twenties, both Irish, they develop a rapport and Robin is smitten. But when Robin introduces Ruth to Joseph, a friend from his childhood, it’s a coup de foudre. Ruth spends that night with Joseph. Next morning, when she is about to leave, Joseph “sat up, pushed back the bedclothes, held her gaze and she felt a bolt, a charge, that made her want to sink to the floor. Here it is, she thought, here is love, and fear.” This is the love whose weight has so many consequences in this story.

We meet Ruth and Robin again in 2018, after much water has flowed under the bridge. We gradually gather how their lives have evolved over the years. The characters of Robin and Ruth are well-drawn and developed. Their individual personalities come across distinctly but subtly and, like many aspects of this novel, are conveyed obliquely by word and deed rather than by explication. Minor characters – particularly Robin’s mother Ushi and Helen, Robin and Ruth’s friend – are brought to life in a way that also rings true.

Robin and Ruth are each more than once described by others as “sad”. An air of sadness does indeed pervade the novel – perhaps a sense of wasted time, lack of fulfilment. Essentially, the novel follows the arc of Robin and Ruth’s relationship and the shifts in the balance of power therein. In the end, the relationship comes full circle – or does it?

This is a masterful first novel by Hilary Fannin, who has previously written plays, a memoir of childhood (Hopscotch), and a regular column in The Irish Times, for which she won Columnist of the Year Award 2019. The book is written in an easy, flowing style and is extremely well-structured and balanced. The dialogue flows, possibly reflecting Fannin’s experience in playwriting. The shifts from past to present work smoothly without awkwardness or confusion for the reader. London, and being young, in the 1990s are captured most evocatively while the contemporary chapters convey how the protagonists have changed or developed, for better or worse, more than twenty years later, in a very different milieu.

Sometimes Fannin’s descriptions seem particularly apt: “the waves weren’t really waves that day, and there was a quietness in the bay, as if the sea was preoccupied with something else”. Others demonstrate emotional intelligence, as in when the question “Why do you think [your husband] is having an affair?” elicits the response “He stopped being kind.”

This is a remarkably assured first novel, with a sense of mastery and control in the writing. It is engaging, drawing the reader in to the characters’ lives. An enjoyable and worthwhile read. I am already looking forward to the next one.

1/5/2020

Marie Rooney is an education consultant. She was awarded an education doctorate by NUI Maynooth in 2010 for her thesis “Learning is my Prescription: Adult Education and Mental Health Recovery”.

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