Monday 25 September 2017

A dead son, a missing sister and a loving uncle – it's a (divided) family affair

Her young niece Mikaella's near-choking mishap as well as the loss of her beloved father provided the inspiration for Monica McInerney's engaging 10th novel.

McInerney is originally from South Australia. She has Irish roots and now lives in Dublin with her Irish husband. Her books are bestsellers here and Down Under because of their mix of sardonic Aussie humour and Maeve Binchy-esque warmth.

When Australian Ella O'Hanlon's son dies, she runs away from her husband and goes to live with her uncle Lucas in London. Lucas is a wonderfully rambunctious character who has filled his chaotic London townhouse with students that he employs as tutors.

Felix's death was an accident but Ella can't bring herself to forgive her half-sister Jess or her husband Aidan. She can't forgive herself either.

Lucas takes Ella in while she battles her darkness. Beautifully creating a special relationship between uncle and niece, the book also looks at the surprising, and often difficult, dynamics between family members.

The girls' mother is a TV celebrity and Jess yearns for her fame. She flies to London too but goes missing. The divided family must then unite in order to find Jess.

The story is told well, and with considerable style. It is part first-person narrative from Ella's point of view, part epistolary tale with the story shared by various family members. There are emails written by Ella's worried half-brother Charlie from Aidan and diary entries from Jess.

Everyone is hurting and everyone is trying to work out what they can do and how they can go on after all that's occurred. These devices enable McInerney to sensitively express the whole gamut of her characters' emotions as they negotiate their way through crisis. McInerney knows about families. She grew up in a family of seven herself and big, boisterous families are always an inspiring force behind her novels.

Because this novel is at heart a fairy story, they will all overcome their problems and everything turns out all right in the end. The book is clever and sentimental but never fluffy. You'll emerge slightly shaken yet content from this bittersweet family saga.

Lorraine Courtney

Irish Independent

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