(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Pen O’Grady is mourning the recent death of neurotic young Cara Wall, with whom she had been intimate for fourteen years. They shared a bedroom in the home of Cara’s father, an absent-minded, introverted librarian who seemed oblivious of their torrid lesbian relationship.

Sophisticated, thoroughly Americanized Kate Wall returns for the funeral. Her reappearance in Dublin revives Pen’s romantic schoolgirl yearnings for Cara’s older sister. Grief-stricken Mr. Wall is like a helpless child. Kate can hardly wait to get through the obligatory ceremonies and return to yuppie life in Boston. Pen is forced to assume responsibilities for housekeeping and funeral arrangements.

The Catholic Church still pervades the lives of Dubliners. Mr. Wall, for example, regularly attends mass although he no longer believes the church’s teachings. The same is true of Pen. Many Irish men and women are participating in church rituals while transgressing in various ways, including using contraceptives and engaging in free homosexual and heterosexual intercourse.

The novel, full of flashbacks to a happier past, is as much about Pen’s “coming out” as about her grief. She feels emotionally dead. She cannot cry at the funeral nor at the clandestine wake held by lesbian friends. She realizes she needs to share her grief but cannot do so as long as she lies about her sexual orientation and her passionate love affair with Cara. During the week she...

(The entire section is 404 words.)