Rosemarie is a restless soul. After “getting in trouble” with an older man, teenaged Rose finds herself married and pregnant in Australia, thousands of miles away from her family and life in London. Four kids and thirteen years later, Rose doesn’t recognize her life. Her huband already looks like an old man. She sews dresses to provide herself with a little pocket money, but when she wonders about marking them with her name as the designer, she is told people around her wouldn’t like it. Her children don’t feel like they should be hers – how could they, when she still feels like a child herself? She reads accounts of the excitement in London and wishes to be anywhere but in her boring little life.
So, on Christmas Eve 1967, she tells her children she is going out to get lights for the Christmas
tree and never comes back.
Almost forty years later, Rose’s four children are still trying to come to terms with the loss of their mother. Deborah, the oldest,
bears the weight of the world on her shoulders. A born perfectionist, her near-perfect marriage to Angus is starting to fall apart. Her daughter, Olivia, is eerily logical and independent, while Deborah tries desperately to give her the childhood she was denied. Robert, the second child, is nearly crippled by his anxiety and OCD-like tendencies. James, the artist, has a pleasant but chaste marriage to his agent, Silver, and his time
is spent avoiding any potentially difficult situations by letting other people take care of him. Meredith, the baby, spends most of her time in an alcoholic stupor, avoiding the advent of adulthood altogether. When they realize their beloved father, Alex, is starting to slip into the grips of dementia, they each respond with differing levels of disbelief, unwilling to imagine losing another parent.
At a dinner party in London, James makes a startling discovery – his long-lost mother is alive and well and living in England. James decided to contact his mother, and the two have an emotional reunion. Rose expresses her desire to reconnect with her other children, but James is reluctant to share his discovery with his siblings. James is not the only member of the family to have a secret, however, and the
revelation of hidden things results in the siblings’ being forced to come to terms with issues of trust and forgiveness that have been buried for years.
Originally published in Australia under the title “Listen”, this novel is an engrossing read. Setting the novel in her home country of Australia, Veitch captures the unique patterns of speech of her native land. For readers unfamiliar with many of the slang expressions used in the book,
the author offers an extremely handy glossary of words and expressions located
following the body of the novel. She handles the many different voices of her characters with ease, giving each their own distinct flavor. She allows each character to tell his or her own story, showing the interconnectedness of their experiences.
Veitch tackles a host of difficult issues through the lens of her characters’ lives. She questions how a mother could abandon her children, and how much a parent should be expected to sacrifice of their own happiness for their children. She deals with the desire to protect the people we love and asks how much protection is for their own good, and how much is to make things easier for the ones doing the protecting. She examines how the actions of a parent can affect their children, and how the miseries of one generation can be visited on the next.
Despite all these tough issues, she manages to write a novel that is entertaining and enjoyable to read. She doesn’t bludgeon the reader with unhappiness but allows a sense of hope to pervade the novel.
Kate Veitch has written a beautiful first novel. Her words resonate with honesty and warmth,
creating characters who are believable and true. Readers who enjoy the family sagas of Elizabeth Berg or Anne Tyler will find much
here to enjoy. I certainly hope Veitch has a long career ahead of her, because I eagerly look forward to her next work.