Mary is 12 years old, a quintessential Irish schoolgirl whose much loved granny is in hospital dying and whose best friend has moved away from the neighborhood. When a strange but kind woman who seems to know Mary's granny Emer speaks to her, she just assumes the woman is a new neighbor. Mary's mother Scarlett who speaks in exclamations, except when she is sad and focused on Emer's illness, assumes the same thing at first. Eventually though, both Mary and her mother realize that the woman is in fact a ghost, the ghost of granny's mother Tansey who died when her daughter was just a small thing who has appeared now to help ease Emer's own way into death.
Mary and Scarlett learn much about Tansey and the past as they try to figure out how to help Emer and Tansey come together (ghosts get too dim and disappear in too much light like those in a hospital) and how to give Granny/Emer the comfort she needs in her final days. Taking her out of the hospital and on a journey to the places of her childhood, they all learn the importance of memory and love and contentment. The four generations, all at four very different stages of life and death, strengthen their loving bond with each other and learn acceptance of the inevitable, demystifying and removing any lingering fear of death.
Although Tansey is a ghost, this is definitely not a scary tale and it really isn't a ghost story either. It's a simple, sweet, affecting novel about family and, in the end, accepting, even welcoming, the death of a dearly loved one. The characters are grand and lovely, caring, and careful with each other. Mary is a cheeky and entertaining preteen, bound to her mother but also realistically exasperated by her at times. Written mostly in dialogue, the novel moves along at a quick pace. Despite its speed, it is really a quiet book without much plot driving it; its characters are its all. The writing is well done and the characters are Doyle's own brand of just slightly eccentric but there's still a slightly unfinished feel to the tale as a whole. What is there is charming but it still leaves the reader slightly unsatisfied in the end.