By James Lawless
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A middleaged librarian whose life and marriage are in a rut unravels the secrets of a suburban avenue
The story begins with a scantily-dressed girl dancing in a lighted window across from Francis Copeland's house. Francis, now middleaged, whose life and marriage are in a rut, fantasises about the girl and finds it hard to accept, as he discovers later, that she is just plain Judy, a dancer in the local pub.
Francis was brought up in a cottage on a big estate where his father worked as a gardener. He spent his early years surrounded by fields. And then the houses started mushrooming. His own secure world was shattered at the age of twelve when his mother was killed by a motor car which was recklessly driven by a neighbour whose identity was concealed from Francis.
Francis' wife, Myrtle, is older and more worldly-wise than Francis. She spent most of her youth gallivanting on the avenue or going with boys and her friend, Ida, to the blackberry field. Francis, on the other hand, is rather innocent of street-ways, having spent most of his youth looking after his widowed father as he grew senile.
With no offspring of his own, Francis befriends the children of the avenue, especially Freddy, the supposed son of George and Noreen Browne. Freddy is a denizen of the streets, neglected by his father and his invalid mother, but a likeable rogue nonetheless. Freddy and his dog, Melancholy, suffer tragically at the hands of the ciderdrinkers.
The hidden world of the avenue unfolds to Francis as he emerges from behind the covers of books (he works as the local librarian)—the haven where he had ensconced himself since his mother's death. Who is Myrtle, his wife? (Does she genuinely go to bingo every Tuesday night?). He does not know her. Who are the real parents of Freddy? Who was the neighbour whose car killed Francis' mother? Raw suburban truths are exposed as Francis, with the help of the local children, slowly unravels the secret.