Twenty-two year old Anastasia's mother has just died and now, six years after leaving, she returns to Dublin to live with her grandmother, the years apart not dulling the bitterness and regret of an old woman obsessed with her dead son.
After a messy divorce, Anastasia's mother left her father, breaking his heart and sealing away any sense of sympathy or pity from her grandmother forever. With nowhere else to go, she is accepted into the purposely old-fashioned, stagnating household where time is whiled away drinking tea and remembering times when everything was better. Every character exudes a sense of existing only to remember the past; nobody has a future, nor do they have a desire for one. Not even Anastasia, the youngest character by fifty years, is interested in moving her life forward, she wants to regress to a time when she could be looked after and protected, unwilling to seek a future that involves taking care of herself.
The novella is very sad. One character loved a man in secret forty years ago, and, on her death-bed, requests that she be buried with a wedding ring he gave to her but that she could never wear. Another exists only to aid Anastasia's grandmother, helping here and there and making sure that everything is the same as it was ten, twenty, thirty years ago. Change itself is the enemy here, the grandmother's only desire is to be buried with her son, no more, no less.
There is a sense of completeness with the character's that is odd to find in a story. There are no great quests - physically, mentally or otherwise - nor are the characters given a chance to grow. In their minds, they have grown as much as they wish to - but not as much as they could - and that is enough for them. For now, they are dead without knowing it, waiting patiently for the time when God will call them up to Heaven.
The writing is grey and cold - at least, that is how I felt while reading it. Sentences are short, crisp, and wonderfully indicative of the mentalities of the characters. Very rarely are there any excursions into contemplation, everything stays very much in the moment, analysing in great detail the all-too-easy stagnation of a life where the reasons for living are gone, forever.
This novella is very short - 81 pages - but worth the read. It is unhappy, but not in a sense that the reader will become unhappy. Rather, we are able to examine the fruitless lives of four different people happy to wait and wait and wait. In them we can see a reality we do not want, and thus avoid.