Published by Hatchett
Welcome to Roone, where love flourishes, life thrives and grief is felt with an ache besieged by the crashing waves of the Atlantic. An island off the coast of Kerry, Roone is home to locals and blow-ins, each with their own story, every one of them connected. There’s Imelda, recently widowed and all at sea, and her foster daughter Eve, who is struggling to cope with her bereavement. Laura is anticipating the arrival of her formerly long-lost sister Tilly from Australia, who grew up in the land down under after being adopted by a nice Aussie couple.
Tilly is head over heels in love with a local boy, who happens to be the step-son of Nell, Laura’s best friend, who is also Imelda’s late husband’s niece, and said step-son, Andy, used to do a serious line with Eve. You can’t turn the corner in Roone without bumping into someone you share a history with.
Henry, the owner of Roone’s hotel is facing his seventieth birthday and is planning a huge party. The invitation is extended to all on the island, visitors and tourists included, and it’s promised to be the event of the summer. Drama begins to descend on Roone about a month before the do, with the arrival of Tilly, Laura’s young step-mother Susan and her small son and a mysterious Italian gentleman. A lot can happen in just a few weeks; will it all come to a tipping point at the big event?
A lot can happen and a lot does. There are upwards of five narrators taking on the telling of the story, making it an ensemble worth settling it in for. On reading I was reminded of a cosy Sunday evening drama on ITV, probably starring Sarah Lancashire and a cast of other actors you’d have seen before in the likes of Doc Martin and The Durrells. It’s a female led story; Henry is the only man given a point of view, and even then merely serves as a sort of prologue and epilogue; the main story is driven by the women.
The Birthday Party is the fourth in the Roone Island series. Having not previously read the other three isn’t a huge obstacle to overcome – I caught on pretty quickly to the various relationships between the characters – but I’m sure this is a welcome addition to the series for dedicated readers. There are quite a lot of references to major plot points from the previous books, which can be distracting and superfluous to the needs of the uninitiated, but again I would say they are appreciated reminders for those who have been to Roone before.
Meaney is an incredibly observant writer, bringing each character to life beautifully, with their own distinct voices. Her descriptive language is enviable, and the warmth she brings to the interweaving stories comes through page after page. Unlike your typical ITV drama, or commercial fiction of a lesser calibre, there are no eccentric characters shoved in for comic relief, no silly red herrings inserted simply for humour’s sake. The closest to that would be an incident with a pair of silly boys, a scarecrow, and the cliff’s edge, but even that is a plot point that drives the story.
The citizens of Roone that we encounter are normal people with ordinary problems. Grief and impending loss plays a big part in the story, and the different ways of dealing with it, and it’s handled delicately and sensitively. The loss of hopes and dreams also plays a part, as does the business of growing up and maturing. While some of the subjects dealt with are heavy, there is a gentle lightness of touch that goes a long way in keeping the everyday tone. It’s a fitting reminder that bad things of all degrees happen in life, but good often follows. I would like to go back to the start of the Roone series and see how the characters got to the point they are at in The Birthday Party, but knowing what happened before is not necessary to enjoy this story. Rosin Meaney is a skilled story-teller, with empathy and congeniality coming through in spades. From the youngest islander to the oldest, Meaney has captured the spirit of all the inhabitants of Roone, and long may she continue to.
- First published in The Tuam Herald on 23.10.19