Grace’s 70 th birthday party is an opportunity for reflection but painful memories gradually dim the nostalgic light as superficial niceties give way to deep seated pain and the long shadow of death.
Hope and tragedy sit side by side as Grace and her eldest daughter Susan prepare for the impending family feast, with the (sacrificial) lamb taking on an almost spiritual significance as the texture and smell of this epicurean staple becomes somehow symbolic of the symbiosity between life and land and the seasonal shift from dark to light.
Beneath the tetchy, uneasy family dynamics the author captures the generational disconnect between the baby boomers and millennials as Harvest, the name of Grace’s hometown, poignantly reminds us of the reality of our continuing dependence on the land which is somehow perceived as nothing more than a footnote in the food chain by an age group less exposed to the agricultural vagaries of climate and more in tune with the artificiality of social media and soundbite debates over the merits of genetically modified crops and food waste generated by the avarice of supermarkets.
The plot is ultimately about those that are missing from the party rather than those sitting round the table. Des, the deceased husband, was a divisive character who seemingly ticked all the stereotypical boxes of the atavistic alpha male; a man comically haunted by an irrational fear of vegetables but more fundamentally displaying an inability to empathise with the emotional needs of his partner.
By the use of flashbacks and what’s not being said the reader is prompted to ask questions about Gracie who is the unseen presence and in many ways the elephant in the room whose story needs to be told to make any sense of the undercurrent of anger that permeates the table.
This is a simple story given focus by the physical constraints of Grace’s house and as a metaphor for an active mind trapped in an unyielding and entrenched body the four walls of a house, with so many memories, make the key protagonists realise that to live requires freedom and to remember requires honesty.
- Rich Reviews rating: