What would you do if your husband that had died, the husband you had mourned and grieved and finally moved on from, suddenly returned home? This is the question that Alice has to face in Sinéad Moriarty’s latest novel The Way We Were. It is the question I asked myself with each turn of the page – what would I do? – and the question that resounded long after the story had ended.
Ben and Alice are happily married and enjoying a seemingly perfect life in London with their daughters, Holly and Jools. But, Ben feels he needs more excitement and accepts a one-off job, his stab at misadventure, in Eritrea. The job is simple: perform a single surgery and, once the patient is on the road to recovery, come home. Then, the unexpected happens, and Ben and Declan, the medical intern assigned to him, are presumed dead.
Alice, Jools and Holly are crushed, and finding their new normal, without Ben, is a long, hard, devastating struggle. But, bit by bit, with the loving support of those around them, they start putting the pieces of their lives back together. And, just as they begin to find their new normal, they discover that Ben is not dead and is coming home, and what should be a celebration for Alice instead has her unsure about everything.
The key to good, juicy Women’s Fiction is one of two things: give your characters a seemingly perfect life and then unleash a catastrophe on them, or place them face-to-face with a meaty moral dilemma. Moriarty uses both of these devices, and with great success. From the moment I began The Way We Were, I didn’t want to put it down. The book opens with Alice’s engagement party to another man, so as Alice and Ben’s perfect lives crumble, we the reader are already privy to the difficult predicament that’s waiting around the corner. Moriarty skilfully draws the reader in right from the get-go, and then reveals the story at just the right pace to leave them hanging on for more.
Her great strength as a writer is in her plausible and palpable characters, characters that we truly care about. These feel less like the cookie-cut characters so typical of the genre and more like real people you’ve met – perhaps, like me, you’ve even stood in their very house before. Moriarty writes from the points of view of Alice, Ben and Holly, each moving the story along with their own unique voices. Holly’s voice was my favourite: her “tween” youthfulness and naivety made me want to dive into the pages to hold her to me and carry her through, what will likely be, the difficult high school years to university, where she will, no doubt, find sanctuary.
The supporting characters played such an important role in this book, for they inject it with incredible warmth and refreshing humour. Kevin, Alice’s stereotypically flamboyant gay brother is a delight to have around. Declan is Ben’s sanity, bringing moments of crazy, Irish, sometimes rather black humour to their dark situation that had me laughing out loud. And, every household should have a Nora, the family’s Irish housekeeper, with her well-earned words of wisdom and warmth.
If you’re a fan of Jojo Moyes, Marian Keyes or Liane Moriarty, or if you just enjoy reading some hearty Women’s fiction, this book is well worth a look. New to Moriarty, I was very pleasantly surprised and will definitely be seeking out some of her earlier works.