Friday, March 11

Those Faraday Girls – Monica McInerney

Juliet was fifteen, Clementine just eight, and their three sisters Miranda, Eliza and Sadie strung like beads between them, when Tessa died unexpectedly from a post-operative complication. Her widower, Leo, did everything in his power to keep her memory alive and his family together – eight years on everything seemed fine, until Clementine announced first that she was pregnant and second that she had no intention of marrying the father. Maggie would instead be raised at home, with input from her aunts and her adoring grandpa, Tadpole.
Twenty-seven years later Maggie has moved from London, her post-Australia base, to New York. A combination of distressing events has forced a reevaluation of her life, and though she's concentrating on her career and how she could have managed to be living a life so incompatible with her beliefs, she also explores her history, which is inevitably entangled with that of her very close family, and discovers secrets including why her aunt Sadie vanished when Maggie was only six.
Those Faraday Girls unfolds more chronologically than my synopsis; though there are occasional flashbacks, for the most part it runs from the morning in 1979 when Clementine breaks the news to her disbelieving father through to the present day (or at least the present day of its 2007 publication), with almost half the novel taking place between 1979 and 1985, before taking a leap to the twenty-first century.
The themes of the book, in common with McInerney's other works, cluster around family - illustrated by the epigraph
No family can hang out the sign: 'Nothing the matter here' -Chinese proverb

They include: interconnectedness, love, forgiveness, dishonesty, brutal truths, unacknowledged hurts, deception, and the mistaken belief that we know our relatives better than we do. We're most often unkindest to those we're closest to, and this truism is clearly illustrated by McInerney, whose sisters are carelessly oblivious to each others' pain.
Anyone who decided there weren't favourites between sisters didn't have sisters, Miranda decided. Of course there were. The truth of it was, though, that the favourites changed constantly, the alliances shifting back and forth in some unspoken parody of a folk dance, two of them close for a time until a change in tempo forced them to break up and turn to different partners.
Trapped in roles both self- and family-created, another theme is transformation as a result of examining how true and applicable these constructs are. While Maggie is the focus in this regard, long-absent Sadie has recreated herself in a way unimaginable had she remained part of her family, but at a cost.
The sad and powerful legacy of sibling rivalry is echoed gnererationally - while the ostensibly focus of this is the repositioning of the sisters, the subtle driving of a lot of the narrative arc is Leo's relationship with his brother Bill. Tied with that is the invisibility of Sadie in her family, a person none of her siblings is rivals with.
The distortion, manipulation and fracture of truth runs through the novel - Leo lies to his daughters about Tessa, in large part out of fear he'll otherwise discover a truth to painful to contemplate; Sadie lies about her past, backing herself into a corner she can't possibly avoid; Miranda and Eliza lie to their families about their relationships and their secret lives; and Juliet lies by omission to her husband, wrapping herself ever more heavily in pain in the process.
Motherhood is heavily present throughout the text, both in its presence and in its absence - though long dead, Tessa is as influential a character as any of the others, while the inability to be a mother (through infertility or circumstance) is a burden and a blessing depending on the character.
All of this sounds as though the novel must be depressing and wearisomely heavy, but Those Faraday Girls is triumphant, accessible, and deeply satisfying. McInerney manages to avoid any number of cliches, and though the ending is somewhat bitter-sweet, it's all the more satisfying for the triumph of reality over neatly bowed plot ribbons. I've enjoyed all of McInerney's novels (and
reviewed two thus far); perhaps it's because it's still fresh in my mind, or perhaps because it's more recent and therefore more accomplished, I think Those Faraday Girls is my favourite. McInerney does a beautiful job of recreating the complexity of relationships, particularly those of larger families.
Though in many ways very different from the Faraday's, some of my friends have expressed bewilderment at the closeness of my siblings and parents in my life, and mine in theirs, while I'm surprised by their ability to maintain distance. I think it's echoes of this in the lovingly claustrophobic, inextricably intertwined relationships of McInerney's characters that particularly resonates with me. You need not have this in your life to enjoy Those Faraday Girls, however - the character development, plot, dialogue and writing are brilliant whatever your viewpoint. - Alex

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