Another Walsh family drama, this one a clever mix of light-and-airy with dark-and-scary, in discovering Helen Walsh’s Shovel List, dislike of small talk and battle with recurring chronic depression. It’s a real rollercoaster in knowing where you are at any one point, and in that sense it seems that Keyes has succeeded in exploring the day-to-day struggles of someone suffering with depression, and it was this chronicle that was the most interesting element of the book.
Don’t hold your hats for an epic Jay Parker/Bronagh Blake bust up reveal; it’s really not as interesting as I was holding out for, and underplaying somewhat considering the juicy hints dropped throughout the novel. However, the Wayne Diffney reveal, although long and sometimes arduous in its coming, was well worth the wait, and a surprising twist that should have been evident miles away; clever yet understated in a brilliant way.
As I’ve said, my favourite (and I choose that word carefully, aware it’s not apt) element of ‘Mercy Close’ was Helen’s struggle with depression. Here is a character who doesn’t suffer fools or social convention gladly, with a few setbacks but nothing edging on the point of disaster, and yet it was so utterly convincing that she was fighting a blackness never seen but eternally felt that it became a fascination. Here wasn’t a dive into the throes of misery and self-pity, but a normal woman ploughing on with life with her demons trailing her despite her best efforts to appear ‘well’. It was so refreshingly honest in a breezy, ‘this is how it is’ almost factual way. Keyes makes something that most of us cannot empathise with part of a regular life so that, finally, there is an alternative window into something so devastating, and it’s not the window portraying hyperbole but reality.
The rest could almost be inconsequential; my reason for persevering was to find out how Helen would recover, because she is an inherently likeable character for her brutal honesty. Wayne’s discovery came second, but the interest in Laddz and the potential scam at large faded quickly; those elements became a bit too cliched, and fortunately they weren’t perhaps at the forefront, although I feel their positioning in terms of importance is up to the individual reader.
Overall, it’s a combination of a beach read and something that will keep you up at night pledging ‘just one more chapter, that’s all’. Helen’s journey is intriguing as a character suffering something unknowable if you haven’t experienced it, and the insight is invaluable; Mercy Close is just a convenient vessel for Helen’s own personal lows and highs.