Memento ergo sum – I remember, therefore I am. A memory from a Latin class flags up the theme of Moore’s 6th novel and Mary Lavery’s identity crisis becomes explicit when she forgets her name in the hairdresser’s. She’s 32, already into her third marriage. She has not been Mary Dunne since she was 20. But in the twelve years since, she’s been Mary Phelan, Bell and now Lavery. No wonder the girl is confused!
And so Mary remembers her life. There’s not much pre-marriage detail. And that’s her problem. She sees herself only in relation to the men in her life and when she’s dissatisfied, particularly between the sheets, she’s quick to find herself another. Her beauty engenders no shortage of those willing to sacrifice themselves in the quest for her happiness. Both sexes too! The end result, though, is three overlapping relationships with no time taken in between to find herself. She cannot know who she is but subconsciously she has a terrible guilt complex about her second husband.
In the present, Mary experiences a really, really bad day; one designed to highlight her inadequacies and uncover the evidence of her hard-heartedness and selfishness. Jittery and shaking from PMT, she encounters three people who are not what they claim to be: a bogus sub-tenant, a friend who is anything but and a man, who claims to be in love with her but wishes to hold her to account for leading him on (in the distant past). It’s very unnerving and there’s a varied emotional landscape for Mary and the reader to travel. Pathos for the lonely old man, schadenfreude at the realistic sparring and bitchiness of the dialogue between the two women, and incredulity during the dinner with her second husband’s pal. Moore making an uncharacteristic faux pas here. No man would demean himself so.
The tones of each marriage are as different as those of the three encounters; Mary finding in her third husband, a paragon of virtue, her “saviour”, her “rock” – her words, not mine. The woman has no identity without a man and, thus, she is without true female friendship. Not my kind of female at all. And while I’m sitting in judgment, let me just say that she has a lot to feel guilty about with regard to her second husband!
Antipathy aside, Moore has created a living breathing (anti-)heroine in Mary (ex-)Dunne. Written in a strongly-paced first person narrative, her voice is consistent and authentically female. I recognised her mad twin – the externalisation of her PMT. I do have issues with the secondary characters though – some are assigned bit roles with only sketchy characterisation. And the novel would have been stronger without the melodrama of the last 30 pages.
Even so the novel is very readable and easily digested in two or three sittings. While it’s still finer than much modern fiction, I doubt I’ll revisit it. Mary and I are not destined to be friends.