(Some grown-up titles this time…)
Kathleen MacMahon – This Is How It Ends
Much-hyped novel set in 2008, at the beginning of the economic doom ‘n’ gloom in Ireland and just before Obama was elected in the US. 40something Bruno is visiting the country to find his roots – late-30s Addie, who is a distant relative of his, is appropriately horrified by yet another American tracing his ancestry in the old country. Yet despite this a friendship, and then romance, emerges. It’s impossible to say too much about this without giving away the end – but it’s a gorgeous book, one which invites (via Della, Addie’s sister, who is a big reader and knows how stories work) the reader to see it all coming even as he or she frets for the characters. Addie, Bruno, and the others are astonishingly real; I wanted to slap Addie sometimes but her melancholy is handled well most of the time. Perhaps not worth quite the hype it’s received, but a beautifully-written novel with many lovely, clever observations as well as a story to get lost in.
Andrew Miller – Pure
This won the Costa Prize this year, well done it, though what really grabbed me was the premise – the story of a Parisian cemetery being destroyed and the bodies relocated, in the late eighteenth century. There was a nice dose of eighteenth century medical stuff in there (… is this not what we all love from our reading?) and the sense of place and time is really gorgeously done. There are just enough details to evoke the setting, and that’s mostly what grabs you and intrigues you. There is a plot, and tensions, and all that jazz, but the sense of being completely swept up in a different time – and not a prettied-up version of it, either – is the main appeal of this novel.
Carol Marinelli – Putting Alice Back Together
Really intriguing read set in the UK and Australia about a mess of a woman harbouring a deep secret. It’s funny but also poignant; the psychological insights into Alice are well handled. Very enjoyable read.
Niamh Greene – A Message To Your Heart
Set mostly in San Francisco, this is the story of a Dublin literary agent, Frankie, whose career is in trouble and whose new temporary phone is receiving mysterious messages meant for someone else. It’s a fast-paced and enjoyable read, and particularly fun for anyone who likes reading ‘behind-the-scenes-in-publishing’ stuff.
Sarra Manning – Nine Uses for an Ex-Boyfriend
And so began my addiction to Sarra Manning’s grown-up books. Hope is twenty-six, and catches her best friend and her boyfriend of thirteen years kissing one night. Is it an affair, or just a once-off thing? She’s not sure, but she doesn’t want to throw away the love of her life if it really was just a single mistake. This is one of the finest books I’ve ever read on the messiness of ending a relationship – even though readers will be urging Hope to just get out of there, there’s an awful lot of truth in the forgiveness and trying-again stuff that happens. Much to love about this book.
Sarra Manning – You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me
I loved this book. A lot. Neve works in a literary archive, and despite being in her mid-twenties doesn’t live a terribly exciting life, much to the disappointment of her younger sister. It’s through this sister she meets Max – who is interested in her. Very. Neve, who’s been conducting an epistolary quasi-romance with her old student adviser at Oxford, is also interested – in having a practice boyfriend. It’s a bizarre arrangement but one which is handled skilfully and authentically. (Also, Max is delicious and the sex scenes are handled so well. Just sayin’.) This goes above and beyond a romance novel, though – it’s more about self-discovery and self-acceptance. Neve’s ‘fat girl’ past – she’s gone from being morbidly obese to healthy-but-not-stick-insect in the past three years – haunts her, and the realities of what it means to be ‘transformed’ are handled beautifully. One of my favourite books of the year so far.
Emily Gillmor Murphy – You and I
I was very, very excited about reading this story of college-goers in Dublin – it’s an area that is woefully underexplored in fiction – but while I did finish it, and was intrigued by how certain things were going to work out, I found much of the dialogue (very stilted and formal) and some of the details (nitpicky things about Dublin and college) off-putting. This review suggests it may be a case of editing (or lack thereof) and I strongly suspect that is the case; a good editor would throw in many more contractions and adjust some of the ‘likes’ that are overused and sometimes oddly-placed to denote D4-type speak. There are moments when bits of Dublin dialect (both yer classic Dublin parlance and the posh Southsider stuff) shine through, but many more when the characters sound like robots. The main characters, Olive and Tom, did nothing for me, and there are a lot of references to ‘slutty’ behaviour (only for the girls of course – grand for the lads) from both narrators that left me feeling very uneasy. Some of the supporting characters – Alison, Beth – were intriguing, but didn’t get nearly enough page time. I’d have loved to see this as a collection of short stories about modern college life, rather than a novel – there are moments and subplots that would have lent themselves well to that.
Clodagh Murphy – Frisky Business
Very enjoyable and funny story. Romy’s a normal helpful sort of gal, working in property development in post-recession Dublin, with a secret. She has no idea who the father of her baby is – except that he was dressed as Darth Vader at last year’s Halloween party. A year on, she’s disappointed not to see him again and begins a quest to discover who he might be. At the same time, her first love, Kit, returns home – could he be the mysterious man from that night, and if so, is it worth rekindling their youthful romance? I guessed rightly how things were going to end quite early on, but there’s a skilful amount of deflecting done after certain hints to keep readers on their toes. One to check out.