Ruby Clare is in her thirties and unmarried. She lives at home where she was the apple of her father Vinny's eye, helping him with the farming, until his sudden and unexpected death in the field outside the kitchen window. Now with her beloved father gone, her mother Martha has rented out the land and insists on Ruby staying in the house with her, knitting tea cozies, cooking and cleaning, and generally being her mother's whipping post. Ruby's existence has gotten smaller and far unhappier than it ever was when her father was alive. Her nasty, self-centered younger sisters, May and June, come home from Belfast some weekends and treat Ruby as if she is their own personal drudge. Whenever she exhibits any sign of a backbone, her mother and sisters threaten her with St. Ita's, the local mental institution. So it seems as if Ruby is destined to live out her life lonely, unhappy, and cowed by these three inexplicably cruel and unloving women. But when she discovers the case in the attic that was left behind by her paternal grandmother, with its contents that smack of the occult, her life changes forever, not least because of the confident voice she starts to hear in her own head.
Dr. Henry Shevlin is a psychologist who has relocated to small Tailorstown to be a temporary doctor. It is he who has say over who continues treatment with him and who needs to be committed to St. Ita's. In his capacity as doctor, he sees several patients who use different coping mechanisms to escape the sadness and tragedy in their lives. His own method of coping with the sadness and desperation he felt when his wife disappeared over a year prior was to leave his home, to stop looking for her, especially once his discoveries started to turn up very troubling and potentially dangerous political connections. But leaving Belfast has never meant that he's stopped wishing for her safe return.
All of the characters here are cradling secrets of some kind, unable to share their sorrow or shame to lighten the load. But as they each find a voice, they discover love and forgiveness, if not from others, at least towards themselves. Although the plot threads following Ruby and Henry are the most major in the novel, Ruby's stands out more. As the novel progresses, her grandmother's belongings allow her to find the confidence to stand up for herself, to seek her own happiness, and to find the courage to break free of the mousy, doormat role in which her mother and sisters have long defined her. The two major plot lines were very different and really only glanced off of each other very briefly although the history of Henry's search for his wife does ground the story in the 1980s and the midst of the troubles in Northern Ireland much more so than Ruby's story does. The secondary characters are quirky and delightful and as the story progresses you can't help but root for Ruby to break free of her family and find happiness and for Henry to solve the puzzle of his wife's disappearance. Although this is the third in the series, it is easily read without having read the others first but if they are anything like this heartwarming, pastoral novel, they will be worth a look too.
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Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.