“It was just that during one of the many moments when he was worrying about money, he started wondering if he could come up with a new entrepreneurial idea, something that was bound to work this time. Nothing came to mind, even though he spent a whole cup of tea thinking about it.”
The Sound of It, by Alison Jean Lester, tells a story of the complexity of relationships within a blended family. It is a love story involving two adults but complicated by their attitudes towards each other’s young children from previous marriages. Difficulties surface despite best intentions.
Jeremy is the widowed father of seven year old Ned and thirteen year old Tom. He dislikes the staidness of his name, wishing those he met, perhaps down the pub, could spontaneously start referring to him as Jez, or perhaps Jezza. Thanks to money he inherited from his late mother he has been able to dabble in various business ideas over the years, none of which have met with the success he desires.
Su is the divorced mother of sixteen year old Caoimhe (pronounced Kwee-vah). Su is a sound designer, mostly working with those who produce advertising jingles and need audio clips to represent a product or feeling. She meets Jeremy when they both go to have their old turntables repaired. When she learns he dislikes his name she starts referring to him as Jay, just one of the things he adores about her. He likes how she makes him feel about himself.
The book opens four months into their burgeoning relationship. The couple wish to move in together but neither’s house is big enough to comfortably accommodate their three children. They have therefore decided to build a new house in a field outside the city, designed by Jay and funded by his investments along with the money raised from the sales of their respective houses. Su will support them all while he manages the project. His plans are ambitious.
A month or so before this, the couple had met each other’s children. All had gone as well as could be hoped for. Su and Caoimhe were particularly drawn to young Ned and he soon accepted them as integral members of his family. The teenagers were more wary but did not cause undue issues for their parents.
Jeremy retains a long held aversion towards his father, Sandy, who lives close by and gets on well with Tom. Jeremy longs for Sandy’s admiration, something he believes his disabled brother, Richard, enjoyed before his life was irrevocably altered in a vicious attack. Sandy now cares for Richard and wishes to also be involved in Jeremy’s life.
Each of the key characters is introduced and developed skilfully. Alarm bells ring early over some of Jeremy’s thought processes but these remain equivocal for some time. Su is in love and happy to place her trust in him. Initially they share the details on all aspects of the house they are building. When Jeremy comes to realise that the budget available will not cover all the luxuries he has promised himself, he starts to keep secrets and tries to come up with a way to manage the growing debt himself.
Perhaps partly due to his experiences in childhood, Jeremy does not come across as an empathetic parent although he clearly cares for his boys. Su plugs a gap in the family when the children have problems that need resolving. She does not recognise that Jay is as much a child in need of guidance as his sons. Her implicit trust in him – in his attitude and abilities – makes what happens harder for her to bear.
Structured in three parts, the story unfolds across a mostly linear timeline. The family: meet, move into a rented house together, move into the new house. They grow closer and get used to each other’s proximity. Jeremy does his best to be Jay but cannot fully suppress his true nature.
The crisis, when it comes, is written with painful authenticity. There is no veering from the characters that have been so carefully crafted. Tension builds as the reader learns why certain threads were introduced along the way. Poignancy is tempered by the realism depicted, especially in how the adults truly feel for the children and how time can alter this. The youngsters have long been affected by actions over which they have no agency, adding disappointment and anger to the challenges they must deal with day to day.
Pacing is taut throughout but also well balanced. The story delves into difficult territory but never loses integrity. Each of the children add a new dimension to a tale, offering much to consider. The grandparents’ roles provide additional depth.
An engaging drama that explores parenting from a variety of angles, and how the true nature of individuals can be hidden but not excised. A reminder of the fragility of trust and the problems caused by selfishness and ego. A lingering read that I highly recommend.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the author.