Wednesday 28 September 2016

Books: Sisters doing it for themselves

Fiction: Between Sisters, Cathy Kelly, Orion, hdbk, 490 pages, €25.50

Anne Cunningham

Published 04/10/2015 | 02:30

Juggling act: The women author Cathy Kelly writes about are also the women she writes for
Juggling act: The women author Cathy Kelly writes about are also the women she writes for
Between Sisters by Cathy Kelly

Cathy Kelly's latest novel involves two sisters in their thirties, Cassie and Coco. Cassie is a married mother-of-two teenagers, working full time, has an idiot for a husband and spends most of her days running on empty. Coco, the younger, is a confirmed singleton, having been engaged before, and is not interested in ever finding a "grand amour", secretly knowing that the jilted ex-fiancé was it. She also works hard running her own haute couture vintage clothes shop.

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They are two ordinary sisters. What's not so ordinary is their family background. Their mother disappeared when they were tots and never came back. They were reared by their paternal grandmother, Pearl, as their father died not many years later, heartbroken and crushed.

Where is their mother? As the sisters handle their various crises in Dublin, a 60-year-old psychoanalyst in London, Dr Elsa de Marco, handles the possibility of having cancer. She is offered a Dr Phil-type show on British TV, as she's been a "TV Expert" on a daytime programme for some years but she declines the offer.

First there's the very real possibility of cancer. And second, there's the need to make peace with her past. She's been sober for decades, put herself through college, has had a very successful career, but she's never seen her children since she went into rehab well over 20 years before. And as she faces her own mortality, she needs more than ever to "clean up the wreckage".

Back in Dublin, Cassie is at breaking point. Her husband Shay is spending every spare moment with his widowed Mammy, who has developed an unhealthy dependence on her only son, and things are getting worse. Cassie is running the household practically solo, and finding "wine o'clock" coming round earlier each evening. Meanwhile, her sister Coco's best friend suffers a stroke, leaving Coco in charge of her little daughter, while trying to keep up with a thriving business.

Cathy Kelly is well aware that this is 21st century life for so many of us, juggling job, kids and domestic drudgery. The women she writes about are also the women she writes for. It could be you. It could be me. What I found surprising, though, was her portrayal of the hopeless, hapless amadáns that pass for men in this novel. Cassie's husband Shay, while professionally efficient, can't see how scheming his own mother is, even with his siblings flashing red lights in his face. His marriage lies in tatters and he's blissfully clueless. While Coco's ex-fiancé, a property tycoon, spends as much time as possible abroad - just in case he runs into Coco somewhere?

These bungling idiots failed to convince me, although that said, I do remember a friend of mine (happily married, I might add) smiling benignly at her husband's latest faux-pas, declaring "Shure men are only useful for two things - taking out the bins and taking the blame".

Come back, Mr Rochester. All is forgiven.

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