Tuesday 22 August 2017

Review: Girl In The Mirror by Cecelia Ahern

HarperCollins, €9.99, Hardback

Edel Coffey

It's been seven years since Cecelia Ahern began her writing career with the phenomenally successful PS I Love You. She was just 21 then and naysayers suggested her father Bertie had more to do with her success than her writing skills. Seven novels and over 10 million copies later, Ahern has proved them all wrong. Like one of her own heroines, she has beaten back the doubters with a dazzling smile and sheer hard work.

She is now a wife and a mother and took last year off to spend time with her new baby daughter.

She has clearly not been resting on her laurels though as her 90-page short story book, Girl In The Mirror, is out this week, and a new novel, Love, is coming in October.

The little book of fairytales is encased in girly turquoise-and-pink packaging but darker forces lie in wait beneath the covers.

In the title story, Lila is getting married to the man of her dreams but discovers a family secret on her wedding day that threatens to ruin, not only her marriage but her life. Girl In The Mirror calls to mind Neil Gaiman's Coraline and Lewis Carroll's Alice Through the Looking Glass with its exploration of the two sides of the foil.

The Memory Maker is a more abstract story but more original and enjoyable for it. It tells the tale of a man who invents a machine that can create memories. Unlike The Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, which this story evokes, the memory machine doesn't erase memories. Instead, it builds them where they are fading or where there were none to begin with. So, we meet the boy who remaps his memories to include an absent father cheering at the sidelines of his childhood football matches. Or the widow who can't remember her husband's face and wants to recapture how he looked first thing in the morning.

Ahern has long staked her claim on adult fairytales. Her magical realism brings a sense of possibility that often evades us in our everyday lives.

There is definitely a darker edge to these stories, however. Here we find loss, loneliness, fear, the hardship of growing old, injustice, domestic abuse, homelessness and poverty.

Girl in the Mirror doesn't have Ahern's trademark stamp of natural justice; nor does everyone get a fair deal in this story. Likewise, in The Memory Maker, the protagonist doesn't believe in fate: "Accidents happen. That's just what they are. Accidents."

There is an unexpected darkness at the heart of these stories that suggests Ahern is heading in a new direction, even if it is still firmly in the realm of the fairytale.

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