Romantic rollercoaster leaves serious questions for heroine.
"Am I now just one of those moonstruck wafting heroines of romantic fiction?” asks Marian Lescher to herself as she embarks on a passionate affair which quickly sees her divorcing her steady, kind, doctor husband, Peter Black, and marrying Daniel Lynch, also a doctor and a colleague of Peter’s.
Set between Chicago, and the fictional village of Glanmilish, Co Laois, where Daniel is from, this novel is romantic fiction that sometimes rises above that somewhat reductive label, with its vivid descriptions of place and the elements as well as psychological insights.
Marian, an American freelance journalist who hasn’t prioritised her work as she has been caring for her elderly father, lands a staff job with a new magazine.
The job offer is made by the magazine’s tough managing editor, Mollie Lehman, who was impressed by a profile Marian wrote about Daniel, an ambitious doctor working on a cure for the ebola virus among other worthy causes. He’s a bit of an enigma described — in true romantic fiction style — as having an irresistible physicality: “His dark curly hair bloomed profusely over the collar of his sweatshirt and fell over his eyes. It seemed damp, as though he had just stepped out of the shower.”
Daniel, vaguely reminiscent of Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey, gives Marian “an ultimatum”. Almost coldly, he says his “preference would be that you’re fully on board.” And so, Marian, in thrall to this man who has awakened her dormant carnality, embarks on the biggest mistake of her life. She not only hurts Peter but also his lovely mother, Letty, of whom Marian is very fond.
However, Marian doesn’t quite have the constitution of a femme fatale. She believes she is in love with Daniel, having questioned her calm and somewhat boring relationship with Peter. “Is that all there is?” she asked herself of her first marriage quoting her late mother’s favourite singer, Peggy Lee.
Marian settled for Peter thinking that at 35, it would be unlikely that she’d do better. She resigned herself to her lack of sexual adventurousness. But when she first met Daniel, having seen him on TV, she experienced formerly unfamiliar feelings. He had “transmitted something so primeval, even dangerous ...”
And dangerous indeed is what Daniel is. Peter made an allusion to this, in an effort to warn his wife off. However, Peter is fatalistic about the effects of Daniel’s charisma on women. And he has more reason than one to be wary.
Marian is not really a scarlet woman. Plagued by Catholic guilt, she feels she got her just desserts when everything turns sour. However, there is an upside to this story. Marian, an only child who oddly has no friends, is taken into the bosom of Daniel’s family in Ireland. She is made godmother to one of Daniel’s nieces.
Daniel’s seemingly strange sister, Eleanor, asks Marian a curious question when she first meets her. “And have you discovered yet that he’s a sociopath, Marian?” she says. There are various hints that Daniel is trouble.
At one point, Marian wonders where Daniel’s marriage to her “figured in the pecking order”. He is often away at conferences. On the plus side, he is generous about money, giving Marian his Pin number when she’s broke.
There is the matter of Marian’s biological clock ticking. She feels dishonest about not having revealed to Daniel her longing for a baby. He had never mentioned children. In any case, Marian is forced to question whether Daniel is marriage material, not to mention father material.
This is a skilfully-written novel that is sometimes overblown with hugely dramatic similes and metaphors. On a bus trip to tell Peter about her infidelity, Marian is going “to a killing field where I would murder a man’s self esteem and peace of mind”.
By combining an insistent libido with Catholic guilt, Purcell takes the reader on a tumultuous journey.
Hachette Books, €19.99
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