When Light is Like Water by Molly McCloskey

when light is like waterAlice, a young American on her travels, arrives in the West of Ireland with no plans and no strong attachments – except to her beloved mother, who raised her on her own. She falls in love with an Irishman, marries him, and settles down in a place whose codes she struggles to crack. And then, in the course of a single hot summer, she embarks on an affair that breaks her marriage and sets her life on a new course.

After years working in war zones around the world, and in the immediate aftermath of her mother’s death, Alice finds herself back in Ireland and contemplating the forces that led her to put down roots and then tear them up again. What drew her to her husband, and what pulled her away? Was her husband strangely complicit in the affair? Was she always under surveillance by friends and neighbours who knew more than they let on?


I decided to read something different from the usual thrillers and historical fiction. When  Light is Like Water by Molly McCloskey sounded like the right pick for me and I liked the setting. I have read a few books set in Ireland and  liked most of them. This book is mainly set in Dublin, Ireland. However, I was surprised when I found mentions of my country and city. Nairobi features briefly in the story but it was still good to read names of places that I know. There were also mentions of Daadab in Kenya which is one of the biggest refugee camps in the world. My only issue is that, it sounds like the camp is in Nairobi which is not the case. Dadaab and Nairobi are about 12 hours apart (by road). However, the inaccuracy didn’t bother me much since Kenya wasn’t the main setting of the book.

The story is narrated from Alice’s perspective. It is not chronological and this bugged me a bit. I mean it can be confusing when a character dies on one page and then they are alive  on the next one. However, the story is narrated through flashbacks hence the ‘back and forth’ order. In addition, Alice has conversations in present that brings memories from the past. I think this is what we do in real life. Our memories are up and down(all over the place). Different things spark different memories. After the initial confusion, I soon got the hang of it and started enjoying the book.

This is a slow-paced book that makes you think about life and what it means to be truly happy. Alice talks about her marriage, affair and the yearning for something better. You know how at times we sit and wonder if there is something out there that is better than what we have. Not just in terms of relationships but even careers, homes, cars…everything really. Even if things are going great, sometimes you may wonder if they could be better than just great. This is what Alice’s affair made me think about.  There are other things that she said that made me smile. For instance; she talks about meeting an ex and remarks about how sometimes, the feeling that we get from such encounters is not nostalgia but it is actually foolishness. I know that feeling…the… what the hell was I thinking that comes when you think/see an ex at times.

Alice is the kind of character who is easy to dislike. However, I liked her. I found her to be relatable. She made mistakes that made her seem selfish at times but at the same time, too err is human, right?  I thought the book depicted the realities of life. I may not agree with her decisions but I understand why she made them. I sympathized with her. She seemed so lost. Apart from marriage and affairs, the book also covers mother-daughter relationships. The relationship between Alice and her mom was mostly sad,complex but I liked reading about it.

Slow paced novels have always been a challenge for me and I did struggle with the pace. However, I still enjoyed the story. The themes of love and life were so well portrayed. It was easy to sympathize with Alice despite her flaws. The writing is beautiful. Unstructured but it still had a flow to it. It felt like Alice was seated next to me, just talking about her life and I enjoyed listening to her although hers was not a happy story.

“I read once that commit to love is to commit to loves diminishment. Which means that commitment is less about optimism than it is about realism – accepting that love is doomed to become less of itself, and proceeding anyway, in the faith that one will be equal to that truth when it arrives.”