The Way We Were is the first book of Sinead Moriarty’s that I’m reading and after I started I came to know that she’s an award-winning, very popular Irish author and this is her 11th novel. This book leaves us in no doubt why she’s so popular. Sinead has a firm grasp on the story and that’s reflected in the seamless way it moves forward. The basic storyline is something that I’ve encountered many times before – a mid-life crisis faced by the man of the house and how it affects the rest of the family. But the ingredients added by Sinead are unexpected and makes it interesting.
Ben is a surgeon and Alice is a GP living in London with their two daughters – fifteen year old beautiful Jools and eleven year old Holly. We meet them at a time when they are stuck deep in the rut created over the years of living together as a family. We know that feeling, of falling into a routine and not being able to break out if it. Alice thinks that she’s ended up stifling her growth in order to look after the family, while Ben is frustrated that he cannot do anything different to break the mundaneness of his life. Jools is a stunning sixteen year old who hates studying because she’s not able to cope with it. She has set her mind on plunging into the world of fashion and the Kardashians are her idols. Holly is the quieter one who is brilliant and prefers the world of books. On a spur of the moment impulse, Ben agrees to accompany another doctor to war-torn Eritrea for a couple of days, a move which is vehemently opposed by Alice who has still not been able to free herself from the trauma of her parents’ death in an accident many years back. Ben’s trip is the turning point in the story. He is unable to return due to various reasons and the rest of the novel is about how Alice, the children and Ben himself deal with this.
Each one of them has to dig deep within themselves to discover their true strength. The process of dealing with loss is not an easy one and the pain is compounded by feelings of guilt felt by each of the protagonists who blame themselves somehow for contributing to the tragic situation. The other characters who form a strong supporting cast are Alice’s brother Kevin, Declan the medical intern who is stuck along with Ben in Eritrea, and Dan who enters Alice’s life.
The true dilemma that the family faces is when Ben returns. A new family order that Alice has carefully created on the debris of her old one is shattered once again. Sinead has excelled in dealing with the complexity of the situation and doesn’t let it descend into sheer melodrama. Alice’s predicament is heart breaking and the way she handles her children and her own life through this storm and steers them to the shore is inspiring. Alice is not without faults, but they only make her more believable and endearing.
My only disappointment was the way a serious issue like self-harming in teenagers was dealt with so casually. Maybe the author had her own reasons and didn’t want to be sidetracked from the crux of Alice’s story. Otherwise I enjoyed The Way We Were by Sinead Moriarty and look forward to reading more of her books.
A huge thanks to the Monthly Motif Reading Challenge which made me search for a book published in 2015 and led me to this novel.