MacMahon returns with lighter touch
Kathleen MacMahon's debut novel, This is How it Ends, was the subject of much speculation when it was sold at the London Book Fair in 2010 for a phenomenal €684,000. The book lived up to the hype when it was published in 2012 and now, three years later, she is back with her second novel, The Long Hot Summer.
The three-year gap suggests a difficult birth and indeed MacMahon has spoken of a book that was written, rewritten and finally 'parked' by her publishers after 18 months. At which point, MacMahon started again from scratch.
The Long, Hot Summer acquits itself well, even if it is a much lighter, quicker read than her debut.
The book tells the story of Alma MacEntee and her extended family. The family are well-known in Irish life, from Deirdre the matriarch and former Abbey actress to Manus the writer who left Deirdre to be with his gay partner.
At the start of the book, Alma is the victim of a gruesome burglary that leaves her missing two fingers. The resulting convalescent period sees her get to know herself and her community better than before.
Meanwhile, Alma's ex-husband Mick Collins, European Agricultural Commissioner, is having his own crisis as a video of him stealing Vladimir Putin's pen is released on Twitter. These lighter, almost caperish plotlines are balanced with more serious storylines, including abortion, but the book's real power, as with MacMahon's last novel, comes in the interior lives and thoughts of the female characters.
It's enlightening to read a book about women in their 50s who are taking stock and becoming empowered in their own lives.
MacMahon is good on families too, and anyone who loved her family unit in This is How it Ends will find lots to love in the three generations of the MacEntee family.
While This is How it Ends was set in the eye of the economic storm in Ireland, The Long, Hot Summer is set the recent past, in a time of recovery, and this might have something do with the upbeat nature of the book.
Having worked in a newsroom herself, MacMahon has a clear insight into how broadcast and print media work and it's a lot of fun trying to figure out what prominent female presenters/columnists Alma might be based on.
Ultimately, The Long, Hot Summer feels modern and pacy. It is lighter than MacMahon's debut, although you do get the sense at times that there is a dark and contemplative voice skilfully hidden at the heart of this book. Darker moments et al, this book romps along at pace that you can't help but get caught up with.
Fiction: The Long, Hot Summer
Sphere, hdbk, 388 pages, £13.99