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Keith Ridgway: The Long Falling

Ridgway’s first novel is a sympathetic novel about a battered woman. Grace Quinn, née Wilson, is an Englishwoman. Her father was Irish but rejected his Irish heritage, changing his name to Wilson, living in England and trying very hard to be English. Grace married an Irishman, Michael Quinn, and they went to live in County Monaghan, running a farm. They have two sons, Sean and Martin. When he is three, Sean accidentally drowns in a ditch. Michael blames Grace and starts to lose interest in the farm, selling it off bit by bit. He also takes to drink and knocks Grace around. Martin realises that he is gay and, when he tells his parents, Michael hits him and then hits Grace when she tries to protect him. Martin leaves for Dublin, never to return. Michael drinks more and more and ends up killing a girl in a car accident, for which he gets six months in prison. During this period, Grace does not visit him and he does not write to her. However, she does learn to drive.

When Michael gets out of prison, he resumes his old ways, drinking heavily and knocking Grace around. One day, she is out driving and sees Michael in the road, praying at the spot where he killed the girl in the accident. She deliberately drives into him and kills him. Because the car has not been repaired since the previous accident, she feels that she can conceal the damage with a bit of mud rubbed on the bumper. The police do investigate but do not seem to come up with anything. At this point, she decides to go and stay with Martin in Dublin for a while. Martin is living with Henry but Henry is away on business in Paris (and Martin is jealous, fearing that Henry may be cheating on him.) While he is happy to see his mother, his concern about Henry means that he is blind to what is going on with her.

Martin introduces her to two of his friends, Sean and Philip (both gay). Sean is a journalist. He covered the story of Michael Quinn’s accident and is currently working on the famous X abortion case (along with others) and even gets to speak to Albert Reynolds. Meanwhile the Monaghan police, concerned about Grace’s disappearance, trace her to her son’s house. However, before they do, the officer in charge tracks them down to the pub they go to, where Grace sees him and her shock is noted by Sean. With his journalist’s nose, he realises Grace might have been responsible for Michael’s death and eventually gets her to confess to him. Martin, too wrapped up in his own affairs, fails to notice. Getting worried, Grace runs off and stays in a bed and breakfast, where she is befriended by the widow landlady, Ida Talbot. The police net is now closing in, particularly after Sean tells Martin and Martin, bitter that his father has been killed by his mother, despite the fact that he did not like his father, tells the police. Grace and Ida go to a demonstration against the X abortion ruling and are seen by Martin, who tells the police. The novel ends with Grace’s arrest.

Ridgway is very sympathetic to Grace but by no means gushingly so. Her husband is clearly not a good man and so painted but, like many women in her situation, she sticks it out because she can see no alternative. She still grieves for Sean, refusing to visit his grave. Yet, she does not see that she did wrong killing her husband and has little regret, though she does have some feelings of guilt. Ridgway also gives excellent portraits of the other characters – Martin, obsessed with his relation with Henry, Sean, the ambitious journalist and even the local police officer. All in all, a fine novel.

Publishing history

First published in 1998 by Faber and Faber