‘A novel about motherhood and mental health, the different ways that love finds its way into our lives, and the sweetness of new beginnings born from loss’
The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually
[ Book Description ]
On an island off the west coast of Ireland, the Moone family are shattered by tragedy.
Murtagh Moone is a potter and devoted husband to Maeve, an actor struggling with her most challenging role yet – being a mother to their four children. Now Murtagh must hold his family close as we bear witness to their story before that tragic night.
We return to the day Maeve and Murtagh meet, outside Trinity College in Dublin, and watch how one love story gives rise to another. And as the Moone children learn who their parents truly are, we journey onwards with them to a future that none of the Moones could predict . . .
Except perhaps Maeve herself.
[ My Review ]
The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually by Helen Cullen will be published with Michael Joseph August 20th. Described as ‘a celebration of the complex, flawed and stubbornly optimistic human heart’ I can honestly say that half way through my heart was shattered.
Set primarily on Inis Óg, an island off the west coast of Ireland, The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually is the story of the Moone family. Twenty-seven years ago Murtagh Moone from Sligo met Maeve Morelli from Willamsburg, Brooklyn, New York outside Trinity College in Dublin. Maeve had just arrived, after winning a scholarship, to spend a summer at the Trinity Drama School and Murtagh was studying ceramics at the National College of Art and Design. The attraction was instant and that day a spark was ignited, one that would glow bright, but also be shadowed by a darkness.
‘The pieces of the Maeve puzzle were intriguing and unnerving in equal measure. He felt so grey in the shadow of her Technicolor. If he were to hold her interest, he knew he would have to shake off the ennui that so often dogged him, that he’d need to achieve more than just getting by. Mediocrity would not the heart of Maeve Morelli win’
When summer came to an end, a decision was made, Maeve had found her peace. Staying in Ireland with Murtagh was the calmness she needed. Maeve struggled with her moods and revealed to Murtagh how sometimes her mind travelled elsewhere. With a history of hospitalisation behind her in the States, Maeve felt that being with Murtagh was the ballast that kept her afloat and with the decision made, their fate was sealed.
Murtagh was a very talented potter but had difficulty in achieving an apprenticeship. When an opportunity arrived for him to take over the business of a famed ceramics master on Inis Óg, the Moones decided to take a chance. It would be a big move, especially for Maeve, as she was leaving her beloved stage behind but it was a decision she willingly made for Murtagh. After a wedding back in Brooklyn, they moved to the small island to start a new life together but Maeve had a caveat, almost a premonition…
“I’m in. I promise you. I know that there is more than one reason to go. But please can we be honest about how hard it’s going to be? You don’t have to always pretend you’re fearless about it, that it’s all going to be wonderful. I’d be much happier if we could admit it whenever we think it was all a terrible idea, which we will, without that having to mean we’re not going to stick it out. Do you get it? Let’s just be real about it. Otherwise, I know I’ll lose it altogether.”
The pottery was a great success and Murtagh’s reputation was cemented well beyond the borders of the small island they now called home. With four children, life was very busy for the Moones but as wonderful as the highs were, there were also some heart-breaking lows. Maeve suffered. Her mental health deteriorated over the years. She had her really good days and then the darkness came. Her children knew their mother was different from the other school gate mums. They knew something was amiss but Murtagh always stepped up and protected them from the times Maeve took to the bed or her mind travelled elsewhere. Maeve was a very creative soul. She was a wonderful mother, when present, with an excitable and positive approach to life that made her children believe anything was possible but the dark load that weighed her down sometimes took over and Maeve was no longer emotionally present.
When tragedy struck, the Moone family was ripped apart. The portrayal of this time is very vivid. The pain raw. The anguish pure heart-break. Helen Cullen’s writing, her descriptions, are truly breath-taking. It is a very emotional experience reading these pages as the descriptions create a very strong visual. I put down the book. I took a few deep breaths and I thought of everyone I love. A very affecting passage of the book.
Murtagh Moone struggles through the next few years. His inability to move on, his feelings of inadequacy as a father capable of raising a young family are palpable off the pages. His children rebel and go their different ways in the world, apart from Nollaig, the eldest. Nollaig comes home from Galway and stays with her father, looking after him. But Nollaig has her own difficulties and being home helps her to keep busy and to push them away.
As the years pass, a gentle light begins to shine and a sense of hope is unearthed in the most unexpected of places.
The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually was a novel that took me completely by surprise. I knew I would be impacted by the story of Maeve and Murtagh but the scale of that impact was powerful. I devoured this book. My heart was battered on completion. I am Irish so I understood completely all the Irish references and it was very easy for me to visualise the island setting. The Currach boat was a powerful image on both the cover and within the story as was the weather, the islanders and the church.
The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually deals with many difficult themes, which Helen Cullen sensitively handles. It is a deeply affecting read and the tragedy of this family is powerfully depicted. Motherhood is a challenge. Parenthood is a challenge. Mental health is a difficult issue to write about. Helen Cullen expertly weaves the threads of the Moone family together creating an almost overwhelming tale, one that will sit with me for quite some time.
The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually is a beautiful, enthralling and stunning piece of work, written with a very exquisite pen.
I wish Murtagh well and hope that his new found optimism for life remains with him forever, along with his memories of the wonderful Maeve Morelli from Brooklyn, New York.
“Here, people see the theatre student, the vinyl collector, the poet, Murtagh’s girlfriend, the American, the actress; so many different things, and none of them are the sick girl, or the far worse things we know some folk call me.
I can’t express how free that makes me feel. My body now is a vehicle for me to live and be happy in; not something I inhabit resentfully, judging it based on how I see others judge it”
[ Bio ]
Helen Cullen is an Irish writer living in London. She is the author of The Lost Letters of William Woolf which has been optioned for television. She was shortlisted for Newcomer of the Year at the Irish Book Awards.
Helen freelances for The Sunday Times Magazine and is a regular features writer and book reviewer for the Irish Times.
Twitter ~ @wordsofhelen
Website ~ https://helencullen.com/