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The Dazzling Truth


The Dazzling Truth

Some people seem meant to be together. That’s certainly the case for Maeve Morelli and Murtagh Moone, the couple at the heart of Helen Cullen’s novel, THE DAZZLING TRUTH.

Murtagh is an introverted Irish art student. Maeve is a vibrant “technicolor” American studying theater during a summer abroad at Trinity College. When they meet in Dublin in 1978, their connection is immediate. “It was as if his heart had been waiting for her to arrive,” he thinks. They fall into a relationship and spend their days careening around the city, seeing bands such as The Undertones and The Boomtown Rats, and plotting their future escapades --- he as a successful potter, she as an actress. But there is a darkness within the lively Maeve, a dense fog that descends without warning. She has ways of coping with her depression and anxiety (walks, yoga, healthy eating) that alleviate her symptoms but cannot cure the underlying condition. Her lifelong mental health struggles are the defining feature of her and Murtagh’s life together.

"Cullen delivers a sensitively drawn story of depression and its effect on a family.... Ultimately, it is a heartfelt depiction of a family’s love for each other, in both good times and bad."

Maeve ultimately loses the battle with her depression, and the specter of her death looms over the entire narrative. We know from the book’s opening chapter that she chooses to end her life in 2005, having come to the realization that she is no longer able to give her family “more days of blue stars than black circles.” Her Christmas Eve suicide fractures the Moone family and leaves Murtagh and their children at loose ends.

But before (and after) Maeve’s death, there are seasons of happiness. We see them as Cullen traces the evolution of the Moone family from Maeve and Murtagh’s student days through 2015, checking in on them every few years in brief, vivid vignettes. Shortly after graduating, the young couple moves to Inis Óg, a small island off of Ireland’s western coast, where he takes over a pottery studio. Maeve gives up her dreams of acting to raise their four children, but she loses something of herself along the way. The family’s isolated life in the small community seems to send her deeper into her own head. Although the Moones develop close relationships with other members of their small, adopted community, there’s a sense that they remain outsiders even after decades of residence. Meanwhile, the Moone family becomes a kind of island within the island, a close-knit unit with its own idiosyncratic quirks and rhythms.

Murtagh and Maeve spring to life on the page. When not struck down by her depression (which can leave her nearly catatonic), she’s a force to be reckoned with, orchestrating backyard theatrical performances, adopting the family’s beloved dog Bosco, and generally infusing wonder into the lives of those around her. Murtagh is a quieter but no less memorable presence. He is devoted to his work, his family and, above all, his “Queen Maeve,” whom he loves, even if he cannot always understand her. “For him, the sound of love was always Maeve’s key turning in the lock; she brought home home with her every time,” he recalls.

We don’t get to know all the children quite as well as their parents, with the exception of Nollaig. She’s the eldest Moone child, a weight she carries “with pained perseverance; heavy responsibilities that were self-imposed.” After her mother’s death, she sinks her energy into caring for her father and preserving what she can of her family’s life, even if it means sacrificing her own. Meanwhile, twins Dillon and Tomás (nicknamed Mossy) and youngest daughter Sive deal with the loss of their mother by fleeing the island, building lives of their own in Galway, Dublin and London.

In THE DAZZLING TRUTH, Cullen delivers a sensitively drawn story of depression and its effect on a family. Though Maeve sees her suicide as an act of profound love, even a gift, it nearly shatters those she cares about most. But despite the sad beginning, this is a profoundly hopeful book. Cullen ends her story on an unexpectedly joyful note as the Moone clan finds new ways to love, in spite (or perhaps because) of Maeve’s passing. Ultimately, it is a heartfelt depiction of a family’s love for each other, in both good times and bad.

Reviewed by Megan Elliott on August 21, 2020

The Dazzling Truth
by Helen Cullen

  • Publication Date: August 18, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Graydon House
  • ISBN-10: 1525815822
  • ISBN-13: 9781525815829