Veronica Hegarty is thirty-nine. She is one of twelve siblings in an Irish family. Her brother Liam has committed suicide by walking into the ocean in the English resort town of Brighton. Three details of his death are important to her. He wore a yellow raincoat. She believes this is because he wanted his body to be found. He was not wearing socks or underwear. She attributes this to his concern about his appearance. They must have been dirty. His pockets were filled with rocks. He wanted to die.
Liam was an alcoholic. The family called him a “messer.” He did things deliberately to aggravate people. He treated his women poorly. He was depressed. Veronica spends most of the book wandering at night, trying to reconstruct the past from childhood memories, to try to determine what lead to Liam’s tragedy. Her recollection contains clues that are almost indistinguishable from the muck of half-truths and outright fabrications from which they are dredged. She finally settles on a vaguely recalled childhood memory when she thought she witnessed sexual abuse of her brother by a shadowy acquaintance of her grandparents.
Veronica is an unreliable narrator, but she is the only one who has the knowledge and the will to tell the story. Her recounting is stream of consciousness, which is true to the way the mind works when emotional involvement and imperfect memory cloud revelation. The narrative jerks back and forth in time and follows a long and winding road to its conclusion. By the time the secret is revealed, I am weary of the journey.
People have told me that they do not like stories told in the first person present voice. I’ve always wondered why, because its immediacy makes it the most compelling point of view in the oral tradition. This book answered the question for me. I believe it is neither the person nor the tense that alienates readers, but the stream of consciousness style employed by writers of literature who use first person present. It traps the story in digressions and dead ends and hides the conclusion behind a pall of toxic fog.