Bloomsbury, €23.70 (HB)

Multitalented writer, actor and director Ethan Hawke has just released his second novel. Part road-trip, part love-story, 'Ash Wednesday' is a compelling read, with comedy, tragedy and lust rippling beneath the surface of the text.

James Heartsock and Christy Walker are two young Americans. Jimmy is a staff sergeant in the army and Christy is a nurse. Both have come from broken families and are haunted by their pasts. Jimmy's parents split up when he was young, then his father went crazy for a while and finally committed suicide. His mother remarried and created a new family. Christy's mother walked out on her when she was a baby and she was brought up by her father and grandmother. Her father, a smooth-talking businessman and local politician, loves her but doesn't understand her. Christy is torn between loving him and blaming him for everything that is wrong with her life.

The book begins as Jimmy recounts the tale of how he loved Christy for a year and a half and then on a whim decided that he needed to be free again, to drink beer and talk baseball with the guys. Almost immediately realising his mistake, he goes on a mission to win her back. Jimmy is likeable, though immature and over emotional. He yearns for truth, questions his faith and tries to understand himself and his purpose in life. He thought he army would give him a purpose but it only succeeded in frustrating him.

We meet Christy as she boards the greyhound bus in upstate New York en route to her home town of Texas. She is four months pregnant with Jimmy’s child, and is heartbroken after the split, but determined to survive. Christy is strong though prone to mood swings and depression, however the reader roots for her and wills her to triumph.

Jimmy catches up with Christy in a bus-station stop over and asks her to marry him. They fight. Christy is terrified that Jimmy will hurt her again. They get married at night in a Catholic church in the small town where Jimmy grew up. Their wedding is a small intimate affair but not without its drama. After the ceremony they find themselves on the road once more, both uncertain they love each other but feeling trapped now that they are married. Pressure mounts, culminating in a dramatic showdown in New Orleans.

A happy ending is not guaranteed, Christy experiences health problems, and Jimmy’s immaturity and recklessness gets them into more trouble than they can handle. Hawke writes beautifully, his novel is full of passion and energy, his characters spring from the page. He must surely be regarded from now on as a writer of note.

Deirdre Leahy