Donoghue is a natural storyteller; this small novel is no exception, a tale of long-distance love and the challenges and rewards of those who brave such a test. The unlikely lovers are dissimilar, a fact that adds piquancy to their romance as it progresses from flirtation to serious commitment.
Curator of a small museum near her home in Ireland, Canada, the provincial Jude Turner has little interest in the modern achievements of the outside world, content in her surroundings. It isn’t until she travels unexpectedly to London that Jude is confronted with the promise of a larger world in the person of Sile (pronounced Sheila) O’Shaughnessy, a flight attendant.
On the advice of an aunt, Jude flies to London where her mother is visiting family and has suddenly displayed some alarming symptoms that all is not well. Jude hops a plane - her first - to be at her mother’s side. The flight is distracting, especially when her seatmate inexplicably dies mid-air. The flight attendant, Sile, seems rather unconcerned.
Later, at the airport, Sile takes pity on the confused traveler. As they share coffee, they make the first tentative steps toward one another. Unfortunately, although Sile leaves Jude with her email address, the connection is abruptly severed when Jude’s mother is diagnosed with a fatal illness. They return to Canada, where Jude’s mother soon dies. It is not until much later that Jude discovers Sile’s card and impulsively contacts her, using the email at the museum, pulled kicking and screaming into the next century.
At home in Dublin, Ireland, Sile is delighted to hear from Jude, whom she remembers well. Despite differences in age and disposition, the women begin an unlikely romance, at first defined by the distance that separates them. Happily, distance is often an aphrodisiac in the blush of first love, and both are enthusiastic about the relationship. Soon Jude visits Sile’s natural habitat and meets her friends. Sile reciprocates, rural Ireland, Canada, a bit of a culture shock for the sophisticated traveler.
As much as Sile’s friends approve of Jude, they are reluctant to see her commit to a relationship that may take her away, recommending caution before Sile makes any critical life decisions. But Sile will soon turn forty; after an unexpected scare and a thoughtful examination of her future, she makes a life-changing decision: “Life is a bridge: cross over it, but build no house on it.”
Donoghue’s characters are always accessible, but what is particularly appealing about Jude and Sile is the resolution of the their relationship problems and the real life differences between them, the geographic challenges, Jude’s quiet, reserved life in rural Canada and Sile’s busy world as a flight attendant with an extensive social network in Dublin . The lesson here is on the nature of commitment, when a life decision becomes a leap of faith into the future.