Friday 21 July 2017

stormy lives of mother and child

Popular Fiction All For You Sheila O'Flanagan (Headline Publishing, €18.45)

It's not often that you come to so-called chicklit expecting to meet an industrial-strength feminist, but bestselling author Sheila O'Flanagan has unleashed a fire-breathing specimen straight out of the age of Germaine Greer in her latest novel, All For You.

Deanna Ryan is feisty, mouthy, intelligent, witty and she has already set the world ablaze with her 1970s call to women: "Get off your back and on to your feet."

It's stretching credibility to read that this firebrand US-based achiever actually comes from Killester -- no offence to the sisters in North Dublin -- but then you wouldn't be inclined to question a woman whose works include a book called Tit Power.

It's little wonder that Lainey, the daughter she abandoned as a child to pursue her own career, has issues. With two broken engagements behind her, the beautiful Lainey is pinning her hopes for married bliss on a toned but thoughtless Adonis named Ken.

Before you can say 'post-feminist backlash', unlucky-in-love Lainey gets dumped again. She throws herself into her job as a TV weather girl and imagines that her mother was right to dismiss her as a 'fluffy no-hoper'.

But Lainey Ryan is nothing of the sort. For one thing, she's not a weather girl but a competent meteorologist who has an instinct for rain.

She is a consummate professional who works for Met Eireann and her understanding of the weather insinuates itself into the very weave of the story.

Each chapter opens with an explanation of a meteorological term and the weather itself is like a mercurial character that sets the scene for the many emotional storms that keep the pages of this compelling book turning.

But it is a storm in early childhood that haunts Lainey. She has a faint memory of being caught in a torrential downpour and being rescued by a kind male figure. Could this be the father who didn't want to know of her existence?

At times you want to shake Deanna and expose her as the wooden caricature she seems to be.

But O'Flanagan is better than that. Her characters evolve convincingly and you begin to understand why they do the things they do.

And you start to realise that All For You is actually a nuanced study of modern women and the pressures they face in their lives, from the "handicap of beauty" to balancing a career with the desire to find a partner.

Deanna Ryan is still a stereotype too far for this reader but O'Flanagan's latest offering deserves its place on the bestseller list -- it entertains, surprises and provokes.

Clodagh Finn

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