Let’s be clear: this discussion (thus far: Part 1 and Part 2) will be full of spoilers. Not only am I going to spoil the plot, I’m going to show you so many mistakes that I’m going to spoil you for ever reading this book. You’ve been warned.
The premise is this:
The time is present day. A sad woman, Anna, whose marriage ended sadly five months ago, takes a sad-person-needs-time-away trip (with a girlfriend) to Ireland, where, on the day before she is due to return home, she is approached by a stranger who inexplicably calls her by name and gives her a wrapped package. The return flight is a rough one.
Within an hour of her late-night return home (she just leaves her luggage and falls into bed), Anna receives a call from her mother: Anna’s older brother, Patrick, has been in a serious car accident. Anna goes immediately to the hospital to be with her mother; here she also learns that Patrick’s son, Anna’s sixteen-year-old nephew Joseph, is in jail as a result of, well, youthful hijinks and a misunderstanding. Anna, a lawyer by trade, is sent to retrieve Joseph, who is unaware of his father’s accident. This takes hours, so Joseph and an exhausted, jet-lagged Anna return to her place; they’ll go to the hospital in the morning.
But Anna is awakened in the middle of the night; she finds Joseph rooting through her luggage with the mysterious package in his hands. They argue, she tries to take the package from him, and—pouf!—Anna finds herself on a beach in the dark wearing nothing but her panties. (Yes.) She is also grievously wounded: a large gash in her leg. As it turns out, the beach is on the east coast of Ireland and the time is 1844. Joseph is nowhere to be seen, though Anna assumes that since she’s there, he must be too. The majority of the story takes place in 1844 Ireland.
Whew. Let’s start with the things that happen in the present day, because these are the problems I saw that made me think I’d quit reading that first night. I’m not even going to mention the notion that Anna is up for about forty-eight hours straight, starting the last night of her Irish vacation, which is a long time to ask anyone to stay awake, much less operate heavy machinery.
• While she’s on vacation, Anna, a lawyer, accepts a package from a complete stranger, puts it in her bag, takes it home on the plane, and never opens it. What’s wrong with this picture? Everything! The fact that she doesn’t immediately open a “gift” is strange enough behavior but would you get on a plane with a package from a stranger after you just swore to the customs agent that you did no such thing? No. With or without the swearing, I wouldn’t do it, kids.
• After making a point of telling us the tour guide is counting every person in the tour group as they move through a house museum, Anna ditches the tour. Why even mention it if there are no consequences? And isn’t that rather rude?
• The friend Anna’s traveling with trips and spills her purse; then she says, “Let’s put everything in your pack. We’ll sort it out later.” A reader thinks maybe they are going to get things mixed up, but nothing comes of this scene. And, really, wouldn’t you just put your stuff back in your own purse?
• After she spills her purse, the friend says, “Tonight is our last night, I can’t believe it. Let’s dump this stuff back at the inn and head out for some good pub food and a few pints. Our flight leaves in the morning.” This is exposition masquerading as (crappy) dialogue. Surely Anna also knows it’s their last night and that, it stands to reason, their plane leaves in the morning. She’s sad but she’s not stupid.
• We’re told several times Anna’s been divorced for five months, and during that time she moved out of the marital home into a new place. Now she’s taking her nephew to that place and we read, “She turned at her mailbox, parking in front of the garage, which had developed an unfortunate tilt over the past year.” This reads as if she’s been there for some time (“the past year”), but really she’s been there less than five months. (And, of course, one wonders what’s tilting—the mailbox or the garage? It’s the gerund that causes the problem here. Either way, how would Anna know this tilt hasn’t always been there? ) These sound like small things but there are hundreds of small things like this that keep the reader discombobulated.
• Similarly, Anna narrates that “it had been years since the boy [Joseph] had begged to sleep over at her house, to ice skate on her pond with his friends” —obviously at the house she shared with her husband, where she hasn’t lived for five months. (The point is that she’s lost touch with her nephew, though they were once close.) Then she brings him inside and says, “You know where the spare bedroom is.” But I doubt that, don’t you? I don’t think he’s ever been to this house.
• Joseph thinks, “Then Uncle Steve and Anna had gotten divorced a year ago”—but no, we’ve been told repeatedly it’s been only been five months. (The amount of redundancy in this book, really, is astonishing.) How hard is it to get these sorts of details straight?
• What’s the point of there being a really rough flight going home? So what? It doesn’t affect anything, not the plot or Anna’s outlook. (Other than: “She did not want to die in the Atlantic five months after a divorce.”) There are many, many scenes throughout the book that don’t advance the plot in any way, a cardinal sin in novel writing.
• And how about waking up to find her nephew rooting through her luggage? Oh, right: a dream told him to do it. This is just lazy writing.
• At one point the narrative tells us Anna only “slept an hour or two” when she first arrived back home from the airport, but in that scene we were told specifically she’d been in the bed forty minutes when the phone rang. Forty minutes is not “an hour or two.”
These things are what I mean by continuity errors.
There’s a lot of strange family relationship stuff too. Anna and Patrick’s father walked out on their mother twenty years ago, when Anna was fourteen and Patrick twenty. No great loss: he was a child-beater (Patrick). They haven’t seen or heard from him since. We’re meant to think that Anna adores her brother; we’re told they were close.
• Anna doesn’t want to leave the hospital (to go get Joseph), because she feels she should act as Patrick’s advocate, even though he is in a coma. “She knew he would want that, and she knew that he would guard her like a pit bull if she was [sic] unconscious in the hospital.” But then we hear this woeful tale of how their father picked on Patrick and beat him and turned Patrick into a bit of a monster: “Anna had prepared herself, as she always did, for the unpredictability of her brother, the chance that she might say or do something that would cause an explosion.” So, um, why is it she likes him so much?
• The sins of the father are visited on the son, of course. Patrick has turned out to be an unpredictable (at best) father to Joseph, one minute behaving normally and the next behaving with “anger or hate, cruel words or open-fisted slaps.” Then Anna describes a scene of watching Patrick hold his infant son tenderly. “Anna had never seen anyone hold Patrick like that; everyone else had been afraid to.” OK, let’s break this down. Patrick’s own mother was afraid of him when he was an infant? This is just ridiculous, because Anna is six years younger than Patrick; she could have never seen anyone hold the infant Patrick.
• This was one weird family, I tell you. On page 136 Anna is having more of those ca-ray-zee memories about her youth—they’re sprinkled throughout the 1844 Ireland narrative, presumably so we don’t forget Anna has a life in present-day Connecticut—and she tells us she could tell Patrick had reached puberty by his smell. (These are the sorts of things a mother might notice, not a seven- or eight-year-old sister, but just work with me here.) In the same passage we learn Anna was allowed to bake cookies all by herself, and when she sensed there was about to be father-son drama, she would whip up a batch of cookies, then “run to the basement and dig out the summer fan, plug it into the outlet near the kitchen door so that the sense [should this be “scents”? probably! hello, copyeditor!] of love and chocolate would be dense and powerful in every corner of the house.” I am not making this stuff up.
• Now, remember, Anna’s father has been gone, not heard from, for twenty years; yet in the hospital as the forty-year-old Patrick lies in a coma, their mother says, “Patrick needs his father right now.” Um, no, he doesn’t. Nah.
Can you tell I’m losing my cool? All that ridiculousness and we’re only forty-five pages in. Why would anyone want to keep reading, really? Let’s take a coffee break, shall we? I’ll take whiskey in mine.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”