Set in Belfast, an ensemble piece populated with quite a few characters, the narrative here revolves around the regulars at the slightly shabby Muldoon's Tea House, which serves good food cheaply. Each of the characters is quickly and sharply drawn: Penny's family has owned the tea house for years and she longs for a bit of beauty and a child. Her husband Daniel is too parsimonious to indulge her and seems more wedded to the tea house than to Penny. There are two spinsters who pass judgment on the loose morals of the day while conscientiously collecting for charity. Brenda is a starving artist who writes almost daily to actor Nicolas Cage, sharing her dreams, triumphs and set-backs with him as his biggest fan. Henry is independently wealthy and owns a bookstore where he can hole himself away from his increasingly self-centered and eccentric wife with her Bronte Bunch. Clare is a New Yorker who once lived beside the tea house and stops in chasing a long cherished desire, the boy with whom she fell in love so many years ago.
With such a large cast of characters (and the above are only the principles), the book feels very episodic as Owens tells their tales in turn chapter by chapter. The characters seem to be fairly stock and the resolutions of their desires are for the most part quite predictable. It was a tad displeasing that almost without fail these people all reached and grasped for their own happiness without reference to the other people in their lives to whom they owed consideration. The affairs and unconcerned immorality was somewhat over the top. Do all married people who are having trouble have affairs? According to this book, the answer must be yes. And while the heart-warming ending that readers expect for the principle characters does come about, the previous bits left enough of a bad taste in my mouth that it didn't redeem the book. I understand there are more books in the series but I'm not eager to make the acquaintance of these folks again and the writing was not sublime enough to tempt me either.