Review published on May 6, 2017.
At his wife’s funeral, Robert Moray is not altogether surprised when John Rufford, the man Laura had rejected in order to marry him, turns up. Understanding some of the reasons why John has needed to come after all these years, Robert decides to introduce him to Tom, his twenty-four year old son. However, he first extracts a promise from John that he will then leave immediately and never make any further contact. Robert introduces John as a man who has collected a significant number of Laura’s paintings over the years. That brief meeting was to change the lives of all three men because the following day Tom discovers that John was in fact his biological father. He is suddenly confronted with the fact that his whole life has been based on a web of secrets, although he had always wondered why he didn’t share the familial red hair, pale skin and green eyes of his two younger siblings. He had been brought up on a Northumberland farm and, unlike his younger brother and sister who are keen to flee the farm as soon as possible, he has never been in any doubt that he wanted to stay. His only desire has ever been to remain and, in time, to inherit it from Robert, the man who has always been a loving father to him.
Although shocked by the revelation, Tom decides that he will try to forget about what he has discovered, that he will continue to support Robert on the farm and will help his father cope with his profound grief following the death of his beloved Laura. However, this proves to be increasingly difficult because all that he has taken for granted throughout his life, the visceral kinship he had felt with his Northumberland roots, has now been called into question. Where, and with whom, does he belong and who will he hurt if he searches for his roots?
For Robert, there is an ever-present fear that he will lose Tom, and yet he recognises that the impetus of his deeply felt need to right an old wrong may well bring this about. For John, there are the psychological repercussions of the truth he has discovered after twenty-four years. Although he fully intends to keep the promise he made to Robert, he fears that this means that he may never be able to acknowledge and to get to know his son and this, on top of his unrequited love for Laura, feels like an almost unbearable loss.
Although this is a sequel to Jane Emerssen’s debut novel, A Necessary Fiction, the quality of the story-telling is such that it was easy to read it as a stand-alone novel. It is a thoughtful, perceptive and evocative exploration of inter-generational relationships, family secrets, of the question of nature versus nurture as determinants of how identity is developed, of self-discovery, of the importance of loyalty, of the long-reaching impact of loss and betrayal and, ultimately, of the power of love and forgiveness.
The author has created very credible and memorable characters; there wasn’t one that felt either superfluous or one-dimensional. Through her revelations about them and their interactions, she demonstrated a deep understanding of the complex intricacies of family relationships and the potential repercussions, on all concerned, of uncovered secrets. I thought that her portrayal of Tom’s sense of shock, loss and alienation when he was suddenly forced to confront who he really was, captured, in a moving, sensitive and credible way, the effects that such a seismic shock can have. Her explorations of how family patterns of behaviour so often have echoes down the generations added depth to this poignant story, as did her evocative descriptions of the farming communities and the landscape of Northumberland in the area of Hadrian’s Wall. There were moments when I became so immersed in the developing story that I could hardly bear to put the book down.
I found this to be a thought-provoking, intensely moving and poignant story and I appreciated the quality of the author’s gentle, reflective writing; it felt as though not a word was wasted. This is a book which provides lots of themes for reading groups to discuss and debate.
Linda Hepworth 5/5
A Plain and Simple Truth by Jane Emerssen
JayStone Publications 9780957431010 pbk Jun 2015
Quirky Q&A with Donal Ryan