Wednesday 7 December 2016

Review: Sarah Love by Geraldine O'Neill

(Poolbeg, €13.99)
Love and sewing in sixties london

Published 25/09/2010 | 05:00

It is the early Sixties in Tullamore and Sarah Love is putting the finishing touches to her wedding dress. But when financé Con confesses that her best friend Patricia is expecting his baby, Sarah calls off the wedding. Hurt and humiliated, she flees the suffocating small-town atmosphere for England, which is caught up in the new spirit of the Sixties.

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There she takes lodgings with some other girls and begins work in Harrison's, a sewing shop in Newcastle, which has been neglected by its owner, Lucy, a reserved and troubled spinster.

At first quiet Catholic girl Sarah is overwhelmed by the different classes, religions and races and wide-eyed at the vast array of foods, fashions and popular music. But her anonymity gives her the confidence to reinvent herself, along with the whole North of England, itself in transition.

She sets about cleaning up Harrison's and soon turns the business around, taking in alterations and making cushions and clothes for the window display. Her enthusiasm has a profound effect on Lucy and the two become close.

Sarah's beauty makes her a magnet for men, particularly David, who runs a bookshop across the street, but she rebuffs them, still too hurt to think of romance.

With the soundtracks of the Beatles ringing in her ears and the rapidly changing society around her, Sarah's rigid Catholic views gradually become more tolerant as she comes face to face with issues considered taboo back home.

A talented seamstress, Sarah begins designing her own clothes and takes a trip to London -- the epicentre of 1960s fashion and success beckons

With empathy for these two women, let down by life and thrown together during one of the most exciting times of the last century, O'Neill captures the heyday of Carnaby Street, Mary Quant, Babycham and the beat of a tumultuous decade.

Her seemingly effortless vraisemblance belies meticulous research. She did a course in dress design to provide authenticity for this insightful, absorbing and delightful novel.

Irish Independent

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