Margaret Forster

This is a novel about what happens after a tragedy in a family. Not the tragedy itself but its aftermath, what’s left when the tide recedes and it’s over. A daughter has died, suddenly, shockingly, and the different ways in which her mother and father respond to the tragedy, how this plays out within the family and affects the other siblings, is at the heart of things.

The sad story is narrated by Louise, mother and primary school teacher, trying to hold herself together and get on with life, trying to understand not ‘what happened’, but what has happened to them all in the wake of the accident, and why.

At first the reader knows only that something bad has happened to one of the family, but not what or to whom. Gradually we learn some of the details – a storm blew up, a yacht hit rocks and capsized, but the body was never found. Louise’s husband cannot come to terms with the lack of knowledge and certainty, and wants someone to blame. He becomes obsessive in his quest for a reason, and travels everywhere, neglecting work and family in pursuit of the ‘truth’. His wife just wants to come to terms with it, can’t think of blame, moves out into a tiny flat of her own and goes back to work at the infant school where she used to teach.Their other children handle the tragedy better than their parents. What they can’t deal with is the way their parents are tearing each other and the family apart.

With characteristic subtlety, Forster holds back the essential truth till the end, when we realize that Louise is not as reliable as her matter-of-fact narration suggests. She blames her husband for destroying the family, but her intransigent determination to deal with grief in her own way, and her refusal to be defined by tragedy, has its dangers. And it’s in these faultlines that the real tragedy lies.

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