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"What is love?",
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This review is from: Shadowstory (Paperback)
A story firmly sited in the upper-middle classes in Ireland - oddly unfocused, without much impetus but also life-like and often endearing. It seems to demonstrate love as pre-eminently familial, restrained, it's heavy shadows something to be afraid of, something to be avoided. A strong family ethos seems to demand constraint. So, as Harry loves a Roman Catholic girl, daughter of the family doctor, they do not marry because Harry comes to see that his grandfather is right in stressing that freedom is more important than love. Bafflingly, the narrative suggests that Polly, and her Uncle Sam (who is only five years older than her) are drawn to each other but plays with the idea that they are in love. The moment comes very late in the novel, when they are seated together on a settee, with many of the other characters present. Sam plays with Polly's fingers, in his other hand a glass of whisky. Something about this scene suggests their attraction. But Johnston stops it flat. What a tease!
Oddly unsatisfying, the novel hovers between suggesting love is all-important, and rejecting it. Only the family, as a kind of static entity, is important. This rigidity of attitudes leaves the book without a real, moving and active centre. The characterisation is good, and the writing is nothing if not literary, but I questioned why it seemed so full of love, but empty of meaning and action. I was disappointed by the ending in particular, which left the narrator, Polly, on the cusp of aduilthood, yet locked into her adolescent fantasies. It ended too soon, and on a note of fading dismay that nullified much of the fine writing that had gone before. It has an element of a curtain being drawn. As if Johnston is saying: there you go - that's all you're getting. If you want any more, make it up yourself.