Book Review: Ask Again, Yes – Mary Beth Keane

Ask Again, Yes - Mary Beth Keane

About The Book

Gillam, upstate New York: a town of ordinary, big-lawned suburban houses. The Gleesons have recently moved there and soon welcome the Stanhopes as their new neighbours.

Lonely Lena Gleeson wants a friend but Anne Stanhope – cold, elegant, unstable – wants to be left alone.

It’s left to their children – Lena’s youngest, Kate, and Anne’s only child, Peter – to find their way to one another. To form a friendship whose resilience and love will be almost broken by the fault line dividing both families, and by the terrible tragedy that will engulf them all.

A tragedy whose true origins only become clear many years later . . .

A story of love and redemption, faith and forgiveness, Ask Again, Yes reveals the way childhood memories change when viewed from the distance of adulthood – villains lose their menace, and those who appeared innocent seem less so.Ā 

A story of how, if we’re lucky, the violence lurking beneath everyday life can be vanquished by the power of love.

My Review

Powerful, sweeping novels are like buses aren’t they? Nothing for ages and then boom! Loads of them. 2019 has been a great year for fiction and Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane is up there with the best of them.

This is a striking and stirring novel about family, love, loyalty and mental health. It had everything I love in a book; strong writing, a sprawling inter-generational story and a plot which examines humanity and human nature.

It begins in the 1970s with Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope meeting as rookies in the NYPD and striking up an immediate friendship. They both move to Gillam, a town in upstate New York and become neighbours. Francis’ wife, Lena hopes that she and Anne, wife of Brian can become friends, but when Anne rebukes her offers Lena finds herself isolated with her young children and Francis’ friendship with Brian stutters to a halt. It is only when her youngest Kate becomes friends with Peter, son of Brian and Anne that the two families, despite living next door to one another, become linked. When something catastrophic happens it reverberates for both families for decades to come, and Mary Beth Keane takes us on a journey through the lives of these two families and how this event impacted upon them.

It is a beautifully sad novel which I found hugely affecting. This event (I know I am being cryptic but you won’t find any spoilers here), is shocking and raw and tears Kate and Peter, who are as thick as thieves, apart. I was fully immersed in the lives of Kate and Peter, watching as they grow up and find their feet in adulthood. Their lives are forever marred by the events that took place when they were children, scarring them both in different ways.

Mary Beth Keane writes intimately about the long lasting effects and some passages are unbearably sad but it never veers into mawkishness. It is delicately and eloquently handled with moments which took my breath away. It deals with some huge subject matters, none more so than mental health and does so with aplomb. It is challenging and upsetting but it is very, very powerful and sensitively handled.

This book features some absolutely exquisite writing which builds a world filled with love, pain and living, breathing characters. Mary Beth Keane is immensely talented, cleverly playing with our perceptions, challenging our preconceptions and ensuring that our sympathy and alliances are constantly moving. Life isn’t linear, it ebbs and flows and people aren’t always 100% good 100% of the time as she expertly shows with our protagonists in Ask Again, Yes. I may have loved them but I didn’t always like them.

I can’t overstate how invested I became in Ask Again, Yes. It really moved me and I was completely enthralled. Every time I put it down I had to take a few seconds to readjust to the real world. I still can’t quite believe that Peter and Kate aren’t real to be honest and I feel a bit bereft that it is all over. This is one of those books that I wish I could read again for the first time and has left me with a major book hangover. A solid 5 stars from me, Ask Again, Yes comes highly recommended.

Where You Can Buy It

My thanks to the publisher, Michael Joseph for providing a copy of the book via Netgalley.

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane is out now in both hardback and ebook.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Ask Again, Yes – Mary Beth Keane

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