The end is quite bittersweet. The day of the barbecue several things take place.
Victoria and Gareth are still talking about what they will do. Gareth is determined to divorce Debbie and some time later, he will travel to New York and join Victoria there. However, things take a turn when he returns home to find a note from Debbie. She tells him that she is pregnant. So Victoria and Gareth know that he won’t be leaving Debbie now, and this is the end of their affair. It is quite sad for both of them, but I think in this story Victoria is the one who loses more. After all, Gareth still has his wife and the child they will soon have.
Debbie realizes she has acted wrong and pushed Gareth away when during the barbecue Tiffany tells her something that reveals that Gareth has been having an affair with Victoria. Debbie is gutted, but she has to admit her blame for demanding from Gareth more than she should. So since she knows that Victoria is going to New York, she intends to mend her ways, and one of the things Gareth wants and she was resistant to was to let out their cottage and move to Victoria’s old house. That way they could save to pay for the mortgage.
It is Tiffany who also proves to be the trigger for much of what happens to Rachel Williams. The woman decides she has no energy to keep living after her husband keeps telling her over and over again that after what happened to Alice, he couldn’t live with himself if he were her. Tired and depressed, Rachel wants to kill herself, so she decides to do it by putting her head in the oven. Tiffany sees her through the window when she goes to ask for some lemonade, and when she calls on the Burrows and tell them, Ernie and Anna react quickly. The couple and Kathleen get to her in time, and she is still breathing. Rachel keeps apologising and asks them not to tell Frank or the children.
During the barbecue Rachel is happy, but when Sarah tells the children they have to go home, Tiffany pleads with her to let her stay a bit more. Rachel offers to keep an eye to her and take her back later. Then Frank tells a shocked crowd that Sarah should be careful with leaving Tiffany with Rachel because she might not see her again. This makes Rachel explode, and she reveals to all the neighbours, her husband and children that the day Alice died, she actually called Frank’s office to tell him to pick up Alice because she was sick. She heard Frank’s secretary to tell him, but the thing is that he was too drunk and didn’t remember to pick up the girl. It was his fault after all, but Rachel was ready to accept the blame because she loved him too much, expecting his full support. Now she is just tired of his insults and accusations. Her children are at once hugging their mother, telling her they had no idea, while Frank is left alone sobbing. Good for Rachel. It was high time she stood up to her pitiful husband.
Sarah also has a surprise. Midge, her husband’s first wife, visits her, and the woman asks her if she can see the children or if Sarah can take them to see her. After what happened when she and Alex had plotted to take the children from her, she refuses, and as Tiffany is eavesdropping in the doorway, the girl starts saying that she doesn’t want to see Midge and doesn’t love her, neither do either of her brothers. I really love Tiffany. She is the best character in the novel!
Ernie has been low since the visit of his brother. He even took to bed, but Anna manages to cheer him up. She keeps telling him that his mother couldn’t have felt so low as to die of a broken heart when she had two more children, and Des had returned to be with her. Ernie concedes she has a point there. Anna keeps saying that it is silly of him to think that he has never done anything good in his life. She reminds him of what he did for the family Anna herself was helping to get out of Egypt and his hard work during the war. He might despise his occupation as a gambler, but he never did anybody harm, and he shouldn’t despise himself. This time Ernie tells her about his fears he’s losing his memory, but Anna laughs it off, saying that Ernie has always been a hypochondriac and it is natural to forget things at their age.
During the barbecue they get a surprise when Gaynor, Ernie’s half-sister, appears. Gaynor tells them that they shouldn’t take any notice of Charlie because he is nothing but a sourpuss as his life is not what he would like it to be, and he is simply jealous. Gaynor tells her that she had two very happy marriages, which was not what Charlie had told them. She also reveals that Ernie’s mother didn’t die just after the war, but when she was in her eighties, and she had a nice life even though she missed her eldest son. That was nice of Gaynor, and I’m glad that Ernie was reassured. However, I still think he didn’t do right when he never contacted his mother after the war.
Kathleen and Steve are put to the test when Steve gets a call. Jean has had a heart attack, and despite Kathleen’s feelings, he leaves. Kathleen learns a lesson through Victoria when the girl unabashedly tells her that she can’t expect Steve to forget and cut ties with his family. It is natural of him to want to know about them because he has lived with them for almost his whole life. Kathleen realizes how unfair she has been with him, and when she calls the hospital and learns that Jean is in a critical condition, she is afraid of what Steve will do whether Jean dies or survives. Yet, she intends to be a more comprehensive partner if things work out.
Another shock is for Marie. When she returns to the house, Edan Kelly, her late husband’s best friend, is waiting for her, and he tells her that Father O’Mara, aka Liam Jordan, has been arrested. The man has deceived her, and he was actually involved in drug dealing, and he is the reason why Mickey was killed. Mickey saw him in London, very different from his usual attire and talking to his criminal partners, so that was why he was killed. Edan has been trying to find Marie for months, and it is only because his sister recognized Marie at the newsagent’s that he finally found her. Edan doesn’t know why Father O’Mara decided to flee with Marie and why he lied to her. Marie realizes that she is in no danger any longer, and she decides she wants to move to Donegal close to her family.
The story then moves to Boxing Day. When Victoria leaves the day after the barbecue, I was sure that the neighbours wouldn’t see her again. She told Gareth that she would be working in the World Trade Center, so this being 2001, it was clear that she would die in the terrorist attacks. I was right. Victoria dies there, and the will that she asked her friend Carrie and Kathleen to sign left everything to Gareth. That was a nice thing to do, but I am not sure if I would have done the same. Victoria only knew Gareth for one week, and in her shoes I would have left my possessions to someone I had known longer, like her best friend Carrie.
On Boxing Day everybody is at the Burrows’ for a party and we learn how everybody’s lives have continued. Rachel Williams is still living with her husband, but their marriage is virtually over. She has managed to free herself from his clutches, which have restrained her from the beginning of their marriage. So now she is a much happier woman, and she is even attending a course on literature at university. I am really happy for her.
Debbie Moran is big with her child, and in two months the baby will be there. Gareth has to admit that Debbie has worked hard to make their marriage survive their past problems. Even though Gareth admits to himself that he loved Victoria more than he had loved anybody else, he thinks it is time he stopped lingering on the past. Debbie didn’t even comment much when he told her that Victoria had left him all her possessions. So when she returns home and reads Victoria’s last email, he decides to delete it and focus on his future and not his past.
Sarah is still happy with her children and living alone. Jason returned a few months ago to see her, but she realized she didn’t feel anything much anymore, and she has decided to concentrate on her children and forget men for a while.
Marie and her children returned to Ireland, but they still keep contact with Sarah and the children, and Sarah intends to visit her in the near future. And Kathleen and Steve are still together. Jean recovered from her heart attack, and it is her near miss that made her realize that she had taken the break-up with Steve the wrong way. Kathleen has even been contacted with some of Steve’s daughter except Brenda, and there is hope for them to meet in the future. That was nice.
Anna and Ernie are still the same, bantering but very much in love. It seems that Anna was right, and Ernie’s fears were unfounded.And Judy Moon is happier than ever. She has learnt through Joe that Harry turned up with a woman half his age and divorced with two children. That didn’t bother her, but she is still upset that Harry never made concessions for their two sons, thus destroying their family and marriage.
I really loved the book. It was full of great characters. I am sorry that Victoria died. She was so lovely, but that added even more emotion to the end of the novel.