Wednesday 16 August 2017

Books: Clare Dowling delivers with her 10th novel

REPARTEE: Clare Dowling’s comic dialogue is masterful
REPARTEE: Clare Dowling’s comic dialogue is masterful

Anne Cunningham

A SPECIAL DELIVERY by Clare Dowling (Headline Review, £13.99)

Clare Dowling's 10th novel is the warm and very funny story of the Brady family. Remember The Waltons? This isn't them. The Bradys are more like the families one sees on Jeremy Kyle of a morning. Not that any of us would be caught dead watching Jeremy Kyle of a morning ... But this particular bunch of endearing nincompoops even has the who's-the-real-father factor. And thereby hangs the tale.

It's Christmas Eve and a baby – not the Baby Jesus – has been left in the crib that Mossy Brady has just installed on his front lawn. It's a real baby, alive and hungry. And Mossy's just blown the fuse box with his penchant for Christmas lights (rivalled only by Danny de Vito in Deck the Halls). Mossy's wife, Aisling, the only sane character in the entire dramatis personae, takes the baby in and hesitates about calling social services. The baby is, after all, healthy, and his mother – whoever she might be – has taken great care to ensure he's warm, and has even left his baby bag with him.

Mossy is apoplectic when Aisling decides to keep the baby for a while. He figures they've messed up with their own kids – one in particular – in such a spectacular fashion, that they're the last couple on earth to be trusted with anyone's baby. But then Mossy is apoplectic quite a lot in this comedy of errors, expressing both anguish and fury with such erudite ironic outbursts as "Great!" or even "Bloody great!" when things can't get any worse. Things do get worse of course, and his wife's attempts to solve everyone's problems drive the couple further and further apart.

This novel reminded me of two other novels, Roddy Doyle's The Snapper and Marian Keyes' Watermelon, both of which translated brilliantly to the screen. I suspect that A Special Delivery might follow the same path. The dialogue, especially the comic dialogue, is hard to beat. The author has worked on the script-writing team of Fair City for years, and her experience and confidence shows. However, I found some of the narrative passages a little too chatty. The narrative voice seems to switch awkwardly at times, like a bumpy gearshift, from third person to first person, without any apparent need. But that's my only gripe. And besides, the chatty, gossipy, narrative voice appears to have become a trademark of –- dare I say it – Women's Fiction. If it ain't broke don't fix it, I suppose.

Poor Aisling Brady's endeavours to fix all of her family's woes amount to a lot of laughs, balanced poignantly with some unavoidable heartbreak. The book hits the shops on Thursday, and Clare Dowling fans – I know they are legion – will not be disappointed.

Irish Independent

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