SOLACE by Belinda McKeon

Book Quote:

“Work. Tom knew what work was; knew what the work really worth doing was, too. Work in rain or shine, the work of keeping a good farm on the go. He knew Mark liked to read, liked to write, and Tom liked to read, the odd time, himself, but there was no way you could think of that, truly as work.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody  (MAY 28, 2011)

Solace, by Belinda McKeon, is a novel about love and longing. As a noun, “solace” means to find comfort or consolation in a time of distress or sadness. As a verb, it means to give solace to someone else or oneself. This book is about people who find solace in the small things of this world and find it difficult to talk about the bigger things. They hang on to what they know, especially when they face tragedy or their worlds turn upside down.

Tom and Mark are father and son. Tom works his farm in Ireland and Mark is working on his doctorate at Trinity University in Dublin. Tom finds it difficult to understand a life that does not consist of working the land and he finds it very difficult to understand his son.  Mark comes to his father’s farm when he can to help out, usually on a weekend. There is a huge emotional distance between them and they often end up fighting. Maura, Mark’s mother, tries to smooth things out but the gap between father and son is huge.

Mark meets a woman in Dublin named Joanne. Unfortunately, there is bad blood between Mark’s father and Joanne’s deceased father. This makes the relationship difficult for the family dynamics. When Joanne becomes pregnant, issues rise to the surface and even more distance is felt between Tom and Mark.

The novel takes place in the mid-2000’s when Ireland is just beginning to go from a booming country to a place of poverty. What was once a land of opportunity for everyone is becoming a place where housing values are decreasing, unemployment is rising, and large companies are moving out of Ireland to cheaper venues.

Mark has been working on his dissertation for several years without much success. He chose the topic of a woman writer who lived near his father’s farm and to assess her writing and relationships with other writers of her time in a new way. His thesis advisor is not impressed and Mark makes one false start after another.

Symbolically, these false starts are similar to the attempts at conversations that Mark and his father have. They start and stop, try to meet one another at some common ground but fail. When tragedy befalls both of them, Tom becomes very dependent on Mark but Mark distances himself even further from his father, burying himself in his studies.

The prologue opens with Tom and Mark alone on the farm with a baby girl named Aiofe. There are no adult females present and Aiofe is very enamored of her grandfather. Tom takes Aiofe with him on errands he has to do in town and ends up in a grand discord with Mark who did not know where his daughter was. No matter how they try to bridge their distance, they fail. They can find no solace in one another when they are faced with tragedy or pain.

The solace that they have comes from what is familiar to each of them. For Tom it is his farm and the land, and for Mark it is his child and his studies. We readers sadly watch the fumbling attempts they each make to reach each other and the increasing distance that occurs. At one point, Tom gets a cell phone and attempts to call Mark several times a day. Mark makes it a point not to answer and Tom keeps calling.

This is a story of a father and son, of rural Ireland trying to maintain its identity, and the difference between living in a city and living on a farm. Tom can’t understand cities and Mark abhors life on a farm. The book is very well-written but at times it goes very slowly, losing the pace that it might have carried. Belinda McKeon is a playwright and there is that sense of discourse in this novel. She has an MFA from Columbia University and this is her debut novel. She is a very promising novelist with a poetic sense and a gift with words. I especially love her characterization of Tom and Mark. I look forward to her future work.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 1 readers
PUBLISHER: Scribner (May 17, 2011)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:

Bullfighting by Roddy Doyle


May 28, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Character Driven, Contemporary, Debut Novel, Family Matters, Ireland, Reading Guide, World Lit

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.