The Meeting Point, By Lucy Caldwell

Click to follow

Lucy Caldwell's second novel begins in rural Ireland with Euan and Ruth Armstrong setting off with their young daughter to do missionary work in Bahrain. For Ruth, it is a calling from God to do His work in a new world, her "weightless aspiration billowing like silk in the air". However, on the first night, Euan confesses the real reason he has come to Bahrain: an illegal operation to smuggle Bibles into Saudi Arabia. Shocked to realise that her husband is willing to risk his life and sacrifice the safety of family, something inside Ruth cracks.

This narrative is intertwined with that of a 15-year-old girl who has fled England to live with her father in Bahrain. Overweight and depressed, Noor spends her time rebelling against her father's newfound religious zeal and planning her suicide until she notices the Armstrongs out walking, "a vision of angels, come to save her". After initiating contact, it is arranged that Noor and her brooding 19-year-old cousin, Farid, will take their new neighbour to see the Tree of Life.

Having studied the scriptures, Ruth hopes that the site of the Garden of Eden will help her overcome doubt and disillusion, but she breaks down on seeing its squalid state. Instinctively, Farid comforts Ruth in his arms and this moment becomes a catalyst. For Noor the event has a different significance. Ruth's tears are proof of purity and redemptive power, and she vows to ingratiate herself into her family.

From this moment, the pace gathers momentum. Social tensions rise as America declares war on Iraq, but Euan continues to prepare obsessively for his mission. Ruth and Farid are unable to resist adultery - but their behaviour is noticed. Bahrain has a veneer of metropolitan modernity but flouting strict codes of conduct has dire consequences.

Through the contrasting perspectives of her protagonists, Caldwell revisits her leitmotifs: faith, betrayal, and identity. Ruth struggles to find meaning in the God and man she once worshipped and must decide if she can leave one life behind and start anew, while Noor clings to her naive idolatry to escape her tragic reality.

The dialogue of this award-winning playwright crackles with dramatic energy. Repressed desire and resentment bubble beneath the surface, threatening to wreak havoc. Casting her net further than the limitations of expat existence, Caldwell masters the development of individuals through life experience, human interaction and the decisions we must make, and then live with. The Meeting Point is a skilful piece of craftsmanship with an emotional charge that is both cathartic and moving. It will stay with you.