Kelly offers a perceptive account of how to achieve marital bliss
Fiction: Secrets of a Happy Marriage, Cathy Kelly, Orion Fiction, €7.49
Cathy Kelly's latest novel lifts the lid on the extended Brannigan family whose eldest member, Edward, is due to celebrate his 70th birthday at a lavish weekend party in Kerry's Lisowen Castle organised by his recently acquired second wife, Bess.
However, far from bringing the family together this upcoming event is threatening to drive it apart, not least because Lisowen Castle was once the venue for the silver wedding celebrations of Edward and his late and much-lamented first wife, Lottie.
The couple's daughter, Jojo, dementedly hormonal on IVF treatment and still grieving the untimely loss of her mother, is outraged by her stepmother's insensitivity and vows to boycott the party.
Jojo's cousin Cari Brannigan too is in a spin about her uncle's birthday bash. A bright and highly successful career woman, Cari isn't fazed by anything - apart, that is, from the prospect of facing the handsome and duplicitous Barney, who jilted her at the altar three years previously.
Now married to a distant Brannigan cousin, Barney is on the guest list. How best to navigate this minefield?
Meanwhile, as the relationship between his wife and daughter grows increasingly hostile, Edward finds himself torn between the two women he loves best.
Never one for confrontation, he feels frustrated and out of his depth in the face of such acrimony; and following a blistering showdown between a quietly seething Bess and hysterical Jojo during which Bess throws one too many verbal missiles at his darling daughter, Edward goes into emotional lockdown.
This drives his wife to despair; because despite her apparent froideur, Bess is deeply in love with this decent, kind-hearted man who, from the off, saw beyond her tough-woman facade to the young single parent she once was, paying off a feckless ex, struggling to get ahead in a male-dominated profession and determined to do her best for her little girl.
Unable to live in an emotional vacuum, Bess resolves to call time on the marriage - but not before her husband's birthday party.
And so the scene is set. With quotes from luminaries as diverse as Gandhi, Galileo and Oscar Wilde setting the tone for each chapter, this is an engaging and perceptive tale from an accomplished author.
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