Elaine Feeney – As You Were

elaine feeney as you were
Elaine Feeney – As You Were

Sinéad Hynes is in hospital, her family believes it is nothing serious, maybe the property developer just worked too much. But she knows better and has kept it a secret for quite some time: the cancer is terminal and now it is too late for a treatment.  Suffering severely, she shares the ward with Margaret Rose who welcomes all her family daily and thus creates an almost intolerable fuss. There is also Jane who is often confused, but at times, she remembers, e.g. that she had known the mother of another patient who shares the ward. Strangers become intimate, enclosed in such a tight environment and thus, they necessarily take part of the others’ fate and get to know their secrets.

Elaine Feeney’s debut is like a theatre play: a limited place with a limited number of characters who cannot escape the narrowness of the situation they are in and who are forced into an involuntary community where they have to support each other and also, reluctantly, share intimate details of their lives. At times funny, at others very melancholy, and always showing characters exposed to this small world without any protection where also no sensitive politeness is required anymore.

What troubled me most was to which extent I could identify with Sinéad and her situation. Luckily, I have never been close to such extreme circumstances but I can completely understand why she keeps her secret from her family and prefers to consult Google and tell it to a magpie instead of seeking help and compassion from her beloved ones. As readers, we follow her thoughts and only get her point of view of the events in the ward which is limited and biased, of course, but also reveals the discrepancy between what we see and understand what really goes on behind the facade of a person.

The plot also touches a very serious topic in two very different ways: double standards and honesty. Sinéad is not really frank with her husband, they do have some topics they need to talk about and which they obviously have avoided for years. Yet, for her, it is difficult to believe that somebody could just love her unconditionally and whom she can tell anything. On the other hand, the Irish catholic church’s handling with pregnant unmarried women becomes a topic – and institution which calls itself caring and welcoming everybody unconditionally played a major role in the destruction of lives.

Surely, “As You Were” is not the light-hearted summer beach read, but a through-provoking insight in a character’s thinking and struggles which touched me deeply.

Frances Macken – You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here

frances macken you have to make your own fun around here
Frances Macken – You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here

Since their childhood, Katie, Maeve and Evelyn have been friends and it was never a question who was the leader of their gang. Admired by the other two girls, Evelyn decided on what and who to like or dislike. When a new girl moves to their small Irish community, she immediately knows that Pamela is arrogant and stupid. Due to her mother’s interference, Katie is prone to become Pamela’s friend, but before they could really get to know each other, the girl vanishes and is never to be seen again. Rumours go from her being killed by one of the trio’s friends, over being abducted to her having run away. When school is over, Katie and Evelyn plan to move to Dublin together, but when her friend is not accepted at university, Katie for the first time is on her own and cannot rely on her friend anymore.

What a great beginning of a novel. I totally adored to careless and adventurous kids who then developed into typical teenagers. Unfortunately, the novel lost a bit of its spirit when the three separate. Even though this is necessary for Katie’s development, from this point on I struggled a bit with the reading, first and foremost because I found it hard to endure Katie’s naivety and her inability to become an independent person, to develop her own ideas and tastes, she is totally dependent on others and their opinion, thus just bounces somehow in her life without goal. Her return to her small hometown is a logic consequence which even makes things worse for her.

In my opinion, the protagonist is well developed and throughout her life, the decisions made are well motivated by her personality and point of view, yet, she is certainly not a character to sympathise with or to take as a role model. In spite of that, I found it quite realistic to see how she struggles with her future, not having really developed but play but only a mere vague dream, she cannot succeed and must end up being totally disappointed. Similarly, her blindness when it comes to her friend Evelyn is well portrayed, she ignores all warnings and other views and is thus left to learn it the hard way.

A wonderful first part and some great aspects, nevertheless, I was a bit disappointed in the end, as I think the author could have made more of her plot and character.

Jo Spain – Six Wicked Reasons

jo-spain-six-wicked-reasons
Jo Spain – Six Wicked Reasons

When the long lost son returns after ten years without a word, Frazer Lattimer calls his six children for a family reunion. It is only reluctantly that they return to the family villa in Spanish Cove, all of them had a good reason for leaving. Yet, Adam‘s unexpected knock on the door when they all thought him dead makes them change their mind. However, from the very first minute, underlying suspicions and open hatred dominate the atmosphere and their anger escalates on a boat trip when one of them kills their father. None of them is innocent, but who really hated the old man that much that he or she could kill him?

Jo Spain‘s mystery is a highly suspenseful murder investigation combined with the psychological analysis of a family which is dominated by secrets and lies. Six children with six different fates, a controlling father and a mother who died from the grief over her lost son – there is a lot to discover under the surface of the successful and rich Lattimer clan.

I highly adored how Jo Spain slowly unfolds the secrets around each of the now grown up children. Starting with the murder of their old father, you are highly alert when hearing all their different stories, looking for motives that could lead them so far. The author created individuals who all have their flaws and weaknesses that they try to hide but which ultimately have to come out, so in every new chapter, you have something totally unexpected come to the light adding to the picture of this young and pitiable generation.

Suspense rises slowly the better you get to know the family members and yet, the conspiracy and murder nevertheless came as a surprise to me since it was brilliantly set up and convincingly motivated. A great read in every respect.

Catherine Ryan Howard – Rewind

catherine-ryan-howard-rewind
Catherine Ryan Howard – Rewind

Andrew, manager of Shanamore Cottages, does not trust his eyes when he watches the camera he secretly installed in the bedroom of the cottages: his only guest has just been murdered. Yet, he surely cannot call the police but has to cope with the situation. Rewind. Strange things seem to happen in the life of influencer Natalie. However, her husband Mike does not believe her, supposedly because he himself is behind it all. He not only seems to have an affair but also wants her to believe that she has gone nuts. The key to it all seems to lie in the cottages where her obviously spent several days, so she packs her bag and spontaneously goes there. She knows immediately that this has been a mistake, the place is not only remote but more than literally abandoned in November and the people out there more than creepy. She does not know how correct her assessment of the place is and how wrong she was about the connection between this village and herself.

I have read Catherine Ryan Howard’s former novel “The Liar’s Girls” about Dublin’s Canal Killer and had liked it a lot. That’s why I was eager to read another of her thrillers and I wasn’t disappointed. Again, she starts with a murder and the reader has to figure out how this character ended up killed. “Rewind” is cleverly constructed and it takes some time to connect the dots and to make sense of it all. Yet, suspense does not decline once you see through the plot as there is still a chance that the actual culprit might simply walk away without ever being discovered and charged.

What I found strongest apart from the carefully composed plot, was the atmosphere the author creates. The small village of Shanamore really gives you the creeps only when reading about it. This place – added the time of the year, November, which is in itself often spine-chilling due to the cold and darkness – is perfect for hideous murders and you wouldn’t expect anybody else than weird and dubious characters walking around there. But also the action taking place in Dublin that makes Natalie feel increasingly hesitant and insecure about herself adds to the overall frightening ambiance of the novel.

Catherine Ryan Howard provides a lot of wrong leads that make you readjust the picture again and again and ponder how all can possibly fit into the picture. The solution is plausible and does not leave any question unanswered. “Rewind” is a perfect page-turner that I read in just one sitting since it hooked me immediately.

Louise O’Neill – Almost Love

louise-oneill-almost-love
Louise O’Neill – Almost Love

Things are not going too well between Sarah and her partner. Is it just because her job as a teacher exhausts and frustrates her? She is an artist, but has never been good enough to really succeed with her paintings, not like her mother-in-law to be or her best friend. When she flees their home one afternoon, she by coincidence meets Matthew and all comes up again. The man she loved like never before, the man she would have given up everything for – the man she has given up everything for and destroyed so much. But he is still Matthew and there is something in her that makes the old feeling, she thought she had overcome, show up again.

After reading the blurb, I expected a story with an unhealthy love addiction and intense feelings on the part of the female protagonist. I was quite sure to feel compassion for her obsessive love and what it makes with her, yet, I mainly hated Sarah, even more than Matthew, which made it a bit difficult to really enjoy the novel.

So, why didn’t I feel pity for her? First of all, she is incredibly arrogant. When still young, her best friend from university gets the big chance of an exhibition, but instead of being happy for him, she envies him and is convinced that it should have been her. Second, her father obviously is quite lonely in their remote village and he always tries not to put her under pressure and to tolerate her awful behaviour, but she treats him like an old imbecile. Yes, he might not have been the perfect dad when her mother died – yet, he also lost his beloved wife and needed time for himself and his grief. Her school friends are just places she can dump her personal dramas, she doesn’t care about their problems and feelings and even doesn’t realise when she spoils her former best friend’s wedding. The current relationship is marked by her evil behaviour towards her boyfriend. No, he cannot do anything right, she only snaps at him and looks down on him. All of this is not necessarily linked to her obsessive love, not, she is just a very mean person.

When it comes to her flashbacks and memories of the time with Matthew, well, it is the classic constellation: a successful man in the middle of his life meets the naive girl who falls for him and somehow she succumbs to the illusion that he might also fall in love with her. Her whole behaviour – bombarding him with text messages, dropping everything when he calls, accepting all his wishes in their shabby hotel room, being subservient in any imaginable way – well, that’s something that might happen, but over months without understanding what is going on? That she is never at his side in public, but hidden in a hotel room where he doesn’t even have the time for a proper conversation with her? At least, she can serve as a cautionary tale.

I am not sure if I find Sarah’s character authentic and thus could really believe the story. Nevertheless, it captivated me somehow and I almost read it in just one sitting which definitely speaks for Louise O’Neill.

John Boyne – The Heart’s Invisible Furies

john-boyne-the-hearts-invisible-furies
John Boyne – The Heart’s Invisible Furies

Ireland 1945. Catherine is 16, unmarried and pregnant. She is chased away from her village from a priest during mass in front of the whole congregation and determined to start a new life in Dublin. The baby, however, will have to be up for adoption, a loving couple will give him a better start in life than a fallen woman. Thus, baby Cyril arrives at the Averies’. Maud and Charles are not especially cordial, but they care for him and in Julian he finds a friend for his life. Even though the circumstances of his upbringing are much better than expected in the first place, Cyril’s life is not meant to be easy: already as a young teenager he realises that he is much more interested in the boys around him than in the girls – an impossibility in Catholic Ireland. Will he ever be able to find real love? Or didn’t he already find it in his best friend Julian?

John Boyne’s novel is a documentary of the 20th century and the development of morals in Catholic European countries. From the very beginning with strict rules which were much more important than the individual’s suffering, over the 60s and 70s with free love and the detachment from all moral considerations, to the 80s and the uncontrollable and unpredictable virus which threatened the world and made people think over their behaviour until our time where – at least in the novel – new ways of understanding the concepts of family and belonging have formed. The protagonist Cyril is strong enough to lead the reader through the times and to overcome obstacles with his gentle and open-minded manners and attitude towards life. He is simply lovable, still at times, you pity and feel sympathy for him because luck does not really seem to be on his side.

Apart from the plot which I found quite interesting since you get an exemplary insight into what homosexuals had to go through in the 20s century, it is Boyne’s style of writing which makes this novel stand out. Sometimes, you could just laugh out loud, e.g. when Cyril explains how his adoptive parents decided on his name: “They had named me Cyril for a spaniel they’d once owned and loved.” (pos. 875) or when he recollects how his father explains him about the birds and the bees (which is just not suitable for any quotation even though it is hilarious). Boyne has quite a limited set of characters considering the number of pages of the novel, they reappear, meet again and again, at times it seemed as if there were maybe too many coincidences to believe it, but even nevertheless it all fit together well and finished in a round and complete ending.

Admittedly, I was occasionally reminded of Hanya Yanagihara’s novel “A little life”, in both novels we find a homosexual as protagonist who has to struggle all his life due to his sexual orientation, societal standards and expectations and who is highly sensitive and perceptive for other people’s feelings and emotions. Yet, the novels are quite different. Where I could feel physical pain in Yanagihara’s, I enjoyed the light tone of Boyne’s novel and the fact that he manages to tell a serious and sometimes arduous story in such a light, amusing way.