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February 7, 2011 5:41 am
The Meeting Point, by Lucy Caldwell, Faber, RRP£12.99, 280 pages
Lucy Caldwell’s moving second novel opens with the wedding of Ruth Armstrong, a young minister’s wife. But rather than describing the ceremony, Caldwell produces a graceful piece of writing about the natural world around the small Northern Irish church. Her focus is characteristic of The Meeting Point: what is important is less the event itself than the impressions and feelings that cluster around it. As Caldwell shows in precise, crystalline prose, even the most generous act conceals webs of betrayal and every moment of happiness subsists through disappointment.
Ruth and Euan had hoped for a summer wedding but her surprise pregnancy meant a winter date, a plainer dress and a weekend in Sligo rather than a fortnight in Italy. It is the first of many thwarted hopes.
Two years on, the family travel to Bahrain, where Euan has a position at the Anglican church. When Ruth discovers that he has a further, covert purpose that puts all their lives at risk, she begins to lose her faith in him and her religion. At the same time, she becomes increasingly preoccupied by Fahid, the handsome cousin of her teenage neighbour Noor. As Ruth and Fahid explore Bahrain together, she begins to question the choices she has made in her life.
Caldwell alternates Ruth’s point of view with that of Noor, as well as the teenager’s tormented diary entries. Caldwell’s first novel, When They Were Missed, was an affecting representation of vulnerable childhood and Noor, who harbours a terrible secret of her own, is a poignantly recognisable teenager, seized by desire for the lives of others.
Noor becomes obsessed with Ruth, who remains blind to the disaster unfolding around her. The climax is skilfully constructed: tense, painful and ultimately redemptive.
Beautifully written, The Meeting Point is a passionate, sensitive exploration of the lies that make family life possible and the compromises contained in every expression of love.
Kate Williams’ novel, ‘The Pleasures of Men’, will be published in the summer. She teaches the MA in creative writing at Royal Holloway
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