Fiction – paperback; Headline Review; 232 pages; 1999.
Two Moons is another startling novel by Jennifer Johnston, who writes in a crisp, clear style reminiscent of so many of her Irish counterparts.
A kind of cross between Colm Toibin’s The Blackwater Lightship and Salley Vickers’ Instances of the Number 3, this book is part comedy and part family drama, but has an element of spiritual “fantasy” that gives it an unusual twist — although some readers may find it too “inventive” for their liking.
Essentially it is a story about three generations of women, two of whom live together — Mimi, the elderly grandmother, and her daughter, the stage actress Grace — in a house overlooking Dublin Bay.
As Grace readies herself for an upcoming role in Hamlet, the family equilibrium is thrown off-kilter by two major events: the appearance of an angel, who can only be viewed by Mimi, and a surprise weekend visit by Polly, Grace’s London-based daughter, whose new boyfriend leaves a lasting impression that lingers long after he leaves.
To say any more would spoil the plot of the book. But it has a raw emotional urgency coupled with a few unexpected “kinks” in the storyline that kept me turning the pages. The characters — especially Mimi — are very well drawn, and Johnston’s writing is taut but sophisticated: she knows how to move a scene along using crisp dialogue, few details and little else.
My only quibble is the overuse of the moon motif — the Two Moons title comes from the reflection of the moon in the ocean — and the fact that pretty much every scene depicted involves wine — whether pouring, drinking or spilling it — which began to wear very thin very quickly.
On the whole, Two Moons is a bittersweet story about love, betrayal and growing old while trying to come to terms with disappointments of the past. It’s a quick read with a kind of fairy-tale twist — wonderful, if you like that sort of thing.