This is a painful, heartbreaking story about expectations, disappointments, love and secrets. When Lucy leaves her already fragmented family to run away with William, her 30-year-old high school English teacher, she has no idea how isolated her life will become. (Time out a second - What is it with students and their high school teachers? I loved mine, but I never wanted to run away with them. I know they were nuns, but still.) While the story is primarily Lucy's, Leavitt gives vibrant life to each of her characters, who face their own demons and regrets with grace and dignity.
As usual, Leavitt delivers a beautifully written story, moving in its courage, raw emotion, and unflinching hope. William's selfishness and immaturity made me wonder why Lucy, a young, beautiful girl, would stay with him. Then I listened to this NPR interview that someone kindly posted on Goodreads, and I understood it a little better. This is not an easy story to read, but it is moving and thought provoking, and it is worth the effort you will have to put into seeing it through its final pages. Not because it is hard to read, but instead, because Leavitt has created a world so real that you will worry about these people until the very end, and then, maybe even a little bit longer.
Emma Donoghue has the unique ability to place the reader in a precarious, uncomfortable and psychologically fraught situation — it is utterly compelling, and almost equally frustrating. In this story set in the Irish Midlands, Donoghue's characters are perfectly balanced; so that while there are certainly "good guys" and "bad guys" in a traditional sense, many of them cross the line back and forth between the two. There is a danger here in giving away the story with the small details, but I usually try to avoid that anyway. When I first finished this book, I could only comment on Goodreads that it was disturbing, and I needed time to recover. I have had some time now, but I'm not so sure I have recovered. Don't let that stop you from reading this book. In fact, it should make you go out and get it right now.