We get to know more about the Laceys.
The three girls are Fionnuala, the eldest, and the twin sisters, Orla and Maeve. Fionnuala is a bit of a loner; she has problems making friends as she tends to be rough in her comments. Then there is Orla, who is pretty, determined and lively. Her twin sister is the peacemaker, always compromising when her sisters fight. And there is Cormac, a quiet boy, his nose always stuck in a book. I suspect that Cormac is not really Alice’s son, but her nephew since her sister-in-law Cora must have swapped his name for that of Alice’s real son in the hospital nursery.
Things at home are not good with John being nasty to his wife and children. Things get to head when John hits Alice. The reason why he hits her is that he got late after visiting her father. She wanted to talk to her father because the hairdresser’s where she works is to close down. The owner’s daughter came to get her mother who is sick, so she is closing down the business. Alice feels her heart sink, but the woman tells her that there is a way for her to keep the business if she gets the lease. Alice can’t pay the twenty-five pounds the lease costs, so she asks her father, but he has no money either, so he suggests she ask Cora, who seems to be doing good. In reality, Cora’s ways are not very legal. She gets extra cash by stealing things, and she now has a better house because she has a ‘special’ agreement with her landlord. Alice thinks she has nothing to lose, so she goes to see Cora, who she doesn’t like very much. Cora agrees to lend her the money in exchange of a share of the profit, but the woman fools Alice when she writes up some kind of agreement. Alice doesn’t know what ‘in perpetuity’ means, and Cora tells her that it means until she can pay her back. Cora is despicable, envious and catty. It is only later that Alice finds out what her sister-in-law has done to her, but it’s too late.
After returning from her father and Cora, John is there and when Alice tells her about her intention to run the hairdresser’s herself, he lashes out and hits her. This is the turning point in their life. Alice decides to sleep in the couch from then on. Soon John feels isolated as her family is excited about Alice’s new business. He knows he has done wrong, but can’t bring himself to say anything. Instead he starts going to a pub near the docks, that thugs and prostitutes frequent. There he picks up a prostitute, Clare, who from the first he feels a connection with since she has a hare lip, and in a way with his own deformity he feels they are similar. As years pass, we learn that John keeps a double life. He starts a business making beds in another area, and it is there that he has his workshop and his second house where Clare lives and the children she and John have had. John feels like a stranger with Alice and her legitimate children, but he has only himself to blame for. He has been unfair and mean to them, and it is no wonder he can’t feel loved. Alice and he have no real marriage; they act like house mates, and they have not slept in the same bed for years. John wants to be with Clare and their children, and he plans to leave Alice as soon as the girls get married and Cormac is old enough.
As years pass, Alice’s hairdressing salon flourishes. Fion works at the hairdresser’s with her mother. She is now eighteen, but she still has no friends or boyfriend. Now her mother has taken a lodger in the flat above the salon, Neil Greene, and Fion fancies him. I have the hunch that Neil won’t have much interest in the girl, and I have the hunch – from the excerpt at the beginning of the book – that this man might set his sights in Alice, which will naturally cause problems.
Orla starts working as an office girl and has great plans for the future. She wants to become a journalist and move to London. Orla has a boyfriend, Micky Lavin, a welder apprentice, and she is in love with him. However, she doesn’t want him to thwart her plans. Micky claims to be besotted with her, and once when they are out, they become intimate. From then on, Orla decides to stop seeing him because she feels he is dangerous for her plans. Yet, that comes too late. Two months later Orla finds out she is pregnant, so she has to marry Micky, give in her notice at work, and forget about her dreams. Her father doesn’t react well when Alice tells her about their daughter to be pregnant, calling her names and refusing to attend her wedding. From then on, John stops any contact with his daughter.
Maeve works in a hospital and wants to be a nurse. And Cormac is a clever boy who passes the exams to go to a grammar school. Cora is still breathing down Alice’s neck, demanding her part of the profit. She even comes, claiming that her landlord, who is also the owner of the hairdresser’s, wants to raise the lease. Alice is cleverer and goes to see the man, Mr Flynn, who realizes that Cora has tried to deceive him. So Mr Flynn agrees to let her have the lease at a reasonable price. From then on, Mr Flynn starts dropping by the hairdressing salon from time to time, and I wonder what he wants. Does he have an ulterior motive and wants something from Alice?
I feel sorry for Maurice, Cora’s son. The woman beats him when she feels he has acted wrong. Cora has a cane presiding her house menacingly. The boy tries to do his best to make his mother happy, but Cora is too demanding. I think the problem with Cora is that she is jealous of Alice and wants to outdo her in all ways. The last episode is when Cormac passed the exam to get into the grammar school but Maurice failed. Cora beats and locks him in his room; then the boy flees and finds himself at the hairdresser’s and wanting the comfort of his aunt Alice, who I think is actually his mother.
I am enjoying the ups and downs of this family. I imagine Alice will end up finding out that her husband has a second family. What will she do then? Will she divorce him? I think Alice won’t be too hurt because after all, she doesn’t love John any longer, and they are more like two friends sharing a house. I guess that at the time people didn’t get divorced, especially with children to think of, but this marriage is a sham. And will Cora be happy in her marriage? Will she be a good mother and wife? Or will her dreams get in the way? She believes she is in love with Micky, but will that love be enough? And what about poor Fionnuala? Am I right to suspect that Neil might look elsewhere… maybe closer home? Is Neil the man in the excerpt at the beginning who Alice was kissing? If that is true, I can foresee many problems. I think Alice deserves some life for herself other than her family and business. If she has the attentions of a man, why shouldn’t he welcome him? The problem is that, if Neil is the man, there’s Fionnuala to think about?
Apart from these family problems, there is also a subplot with Danny Mitchell, Alice’s widowed father. When his wife was alive, Danny was a good, faithful husband. Yet, Alice’s mother died years ago, when Alice was eight, and after looking after his only daughter and she started her own life, the man started to sow his wild oats. He is a bit of a lady’s man. However, I think there is a story between him and Alice’s best friend, Bernie. Bernadette lost her husband in the war, but she has always had a crush on her best friend’s father. Now that she is a widow and is older, she and Danny don’t get on as Danny is a bit of a misogynist in Bernie’s opinion. Since the man stated that a man couldn’t be kicked out of her house even if he hit his wife, Bernie’s adoration has dwindled. However, it is clear that their differences show that there is an attraction between them. I wonder who will be the first to take the first step.