I’d not come across Hilary Fannin until The Weight of Love started popping up on my Twitter timeline. Her name will no doubt be more familiar to Irish readers thanks to her prize-winning column in the Irish Times. She’s also known as a playwright and memoirist but this is her first novel, a delicately nuanced exploration of a long marriage at crisis point.
When Ushi takes in a young boy one summer, Robin finally finds a friend. Ushi is fiercely protective of her son who’s singled out at school for his German mother and no sign of a father. Joe’s mother has a wildness about her that rubs off on her son, lending him a precociousness and unpredictability of his own which emboldens Robin. As soon as he can, Robin takes himself off to London, teaching literature in a school where he meets Ruth, his tentative hopes of a relationship dashed when he introduces her to Joe, all intensity and glamour in comparison to Robin’s quiet diffidence. Ruth moves in with Joe the following day and it’s not until her son is two that she and Robin meet again in Dublin, Robin still in love with her while she still thinks of Joe. Over the years, these two will find an accommodation, Robin becoming the good father to Sid he lacked himself. Over twenty years later, the balance has shifted and it’s time to take stock now that Sid is finding his own way and Ushi is dying.
These old men’s stories were, she considered, smooth as pebbles from the number of times they’d been pulled from memory and fondled with words and sighs
Fannin’s novel alternates between 1995 and 2018, smoothly switching perspectives between Robin and Ruth, building an intricately layered portrait of this complicated marriage as their stories unfold. Memories, anecdotes and episodes from their lives are skilfully threaded through each narrative. Fannin’s characters are convincing and true, their dilemmas sympathetically explored so that we come to care for these people who have become so entangled with each other – whether absent or present. Her writing is striking – often lyrical – and it’s witty.
The two men stood watching it dart around the pond, lonely and confused, looking for a friend to eat
It’s an absorbing, carefully constructed novel, wrenching at times. Fannin gives us a nicely ambivalent ending with just enough grounds for hope for the more optimistic of her readers like me.
Doubleday Ireland: Dublin 2020 9781781620458 352 pages Paperback