The Last Anniversary is a very uncharacteristic novel for Moriarty because it’s very, very dark. There are two plot lines. One is that of a 39-year-old Sophie who is desperate to get married and have a child before it’s too late. She hides from the unbearable realization of a wasted life behind fantasies of a glamorous career and endless romantic opportunities. But the reality is that of a humdrum HR job in a lawnmower company and a terrible loneliness of a series of fruitless first dates. Moriarty’s understanding of psychology in this novel is spot-on. She shows how Sophie’s endless failures are a result of her shallow, vapid consumerism that envisions life as images from cheap commercials where good things happen by magic without any effort on your part.
No man can live up to Sophie’s fantasy of flawless, robotic perfection. Nobody can offer her a life of spotless, unmarred bliss. Even when she receives a windfall of an inheritance in the shape of a beautiful house on a paradisical island complete with a bunch of new friends and two perfect suitors, it never occurs to Sophie that she might need to put in a bit of effort to make the magic last. “Love is a decision. Not a feeling,” says a wise old woman at the beginning of the novel but that’s an insight Sophie never gets, so she continues to wait for love, fulfilment, family, and happiness to just happen to her. And of course they never do.
But this is actually the light-hearted part of the novel. The real darkness resides in Grace, a malignant narcissist who abuses her infant son and her husband. Moriarty traces the making of such a narcissist exceptionally well. Usually, even serious novelists portray severe pathology like Grace’s in the same way as Sophie understands love: it just happens for absolutely no reason. It’s all about luck.
Moriarty, however, goes pretty deep with Grace. She shows a multigenerational story of a family where a child is physically raped in the 1930s and the unspoken, unrecognized horror of that violation culminates in Grace, the great-granddaughter of the raped girl feeling entitled to rape her infant child’s mind.
The novel is all about self-involved, horrid women and mostly decent yet weak men who are trapped in the women’s boundless dysfunction. What’s particularly creepy is that the novel is narrated in a light-hearted, often saccharine tone that imitates the inner state of the extremely shallow Sophie and underscores the horrors of child rape, abuse, and all the rest of it.
I warned you it gets dark, didn’t I? I’d rather read a serial killer novel than go back to Grace and her psychopath mother Laura. This is not a light beach read but it’s very worth reading if you are prepared to catch a glimpse of real darkness.
Also, love is absolutely a decision. So is happiness. It doesn’t happen. It’s made.