Book Reviews

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Cocktail of intrigues and love tangles, all guilt-free

Published 13/07/2014 | 00:00

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Girl reading book on beach
How Many Letters are in Goodbye?
The Pink Pepper Tree

The guilt-free pleasure of holiday reading cannot be overestimated. Turn off your phone and escape into intrigue, love tangles, sexual trysts, be they gay or straight, sip a cocktail, a chilled rose or a nice cup of tea and unwind from reality with a spot of Irish female fiction this summer.

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One Chance is a tender story of first love. It is the story of young Matthew, Emily and seasoned Edward, their horses, showjumping and winning, in that order. It would be tempting to compare the author's insight into the 'incestuous whirlpool' that is the showjumping world with that of Jilly Cooper in Riders. But temptation is resisted, Edward is no Rupert Campbell Black and Emily, no Pandora. Set in Wicklow and Dublin, One Chance portrays ruthlessness, deception and infidelity in the competitive equine arena. Adrenaline rushes, sweat abounds and horse trucks provide endless opportunity for nocturnal activity.

This is Gillmor Murphy's second novel, at 24, and she is well able to narrate young love, seduction and weave a romantic and destructive web between the three main characters. Each alternate chapter is told by the late teens, Matthew or Emily, providing an insight into their different struggles to break free of family restraint, to pursue their ambitions and control their passions. Matthew's modest background, working as a groom in exchange for training, contrasts with Emily's privileged lifestyle, she seems to have everything until she realises she is trapped without a choice.

A counterpoint to the straight-line love story is the quest for gay love. Nick is a gay groom and lives with Matthew; this sub-plot vacillates between contemporary acceptance and small-town hostility to homosexuality. A quick read, One Chance is all about taking that chance and going for it. This is a sporty holiday read for a giddy young woman.

***

Chloe Townsend is sobbing inconsolably with her best friend. A fistful of Kleenex is at hand and a crumpled wedding dress. She has been unceremoniously dumped on her wedding day, when her fiance, Frank, does a Rory McIlroy. Love me or Leave me is the 11th book from the prolific Claudia Carroll. Her heroine has to overcome said jilting and take a different path, we hope into a more fulfilled and delightful life.

Chloe was the functions manager at the Merrion Hotel, and salt is rubbed in the wounds with countless other weddings to attend and organise. She decamps to London and is interviewed by the handsome Rob McFayden. The job is to manage his new boutique hotel. Not any old boutique hotel, but a 'Divorce Hotel' where separating couples come to smooth out the legal and emotional details and leave each other amicably. That is the theory anyway. At the opening weekend, under luxurious circumstances, champagne on arrival, counselling sessions and the intervention of other characters, wounds are opened, eyes are opened.

Carroll introduces several sub-plots of couples in the throes of diverse breakdowns. There is the heated email exchange between the vituperative 'Jo in Marketing' and her extraordinarily patronising husband, Dave. Or maybe he's just unbelievably understanding and patient?

Heartbreak, infidelity and tension are played out in the Dawn and Kirk story, the starter marriage. Lucy and Andrew have exes and adult children to contend with. Then there is Chloe herself, will she ever overcome her own heartbreak and resolve Rob's other woman? This is one for the poolside and a cocktail.

***

Yvonne Cassidy, author of How Many Letters are in Goodbye, takes the epistolary approach; the voice is that of Rhea who is 17 and on the streets of New York devising ways to spend the night on subways and all-night cafes. She is writing a letter to her mother, recounting every detail of how she got there. The only problem is that her mother is dead, presumed drowned in Rhea's hometown of Rush in north Dublin. Her mother was from New York. Rhea's father died in a car accident. Her aunt went to Ireland and took her back to Florida to live with her partner and his daughter.

As if all that isn't bad enough, there is talk of another accident, the mystery of which bubbles beneath the surface of the page. Soon we learn that Rhea severed her arm in a slicing machine at her father's butchers shop. She befriends Sergei, a gay man, she meets on the subway. They commence a search for clues to her mother's American life. Along the way, Rhea seeks refuge at an AA meeting; she meets Winnie who brings her to a shelter in the Hamptons to volunteer as a caretaker for damaged children.

The letters continue apace with Rhea struggling with her own sexuality. She ultimately succumbs to therapy with Jean, who tells her 'If you don't let feelings out, they get stuck inside, frozen like glaciers. That what we're doing is melting the feelings so they can come out.'

While a story of an orphaned, homeless, one-armed 17-year-old could be mawkish, Cassidy resists sentimentality. It is a very well constructed, compelling story of tragic loss, self-discovery and love. This is one for the storm-bound cottage in the west of Ireland.

***

Travel-writing is Muriel Bolger's forte and she weaves exotic destinations from South Africa to the Seychelles into her latest book. Friends since Montessori School, June and Danielle tour the Cote d'Azur in a dazzling yacht, only for June to discover on her return to Ireland that she has brought home a tawdry secret; one that sets a train of life-changing events in motion. Her romance with restaurateur Peter Braga of the Pink Pepper Tree restaurant takes a turn for the worst.

At least June inherited a big house on Raglan Road from her father and works for a wine importer, providing her with financial security and a reason to travel to far flung vineyards. Her encounter with Lorcan Overend takes her on a journey to even greater affluence, but money is not everything as she discovers in the eight years spanned in the book.

Bolger deals deftly with large themes of apartheid, abortion, infidelity and betrayal set in Dublin at a time where pursuit of self-interest was commonplace. This is definitely one for the deckchair.

 

One Chance

By Emily Gillmor Murphy

Published by Transworld €11.24

Love me or Leave me

By Claudia Carroll

Avon Publishers €11.24

How many letters are in Goodbye

By Yvonne Cassidy

Hachette €11.24

The Pink Pepper Tree

By Muriel Bolger

Hachette €11.24

Deirdre Conroy

Sunday Independent

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