Monday 11 December 2017

a tale for our times

Stand By Me Sheila O'Flanagan (Headline, €17.15)

Lisa Quinn

Best-selling Irish writer Sheila O'Flanagan knows how to hook a reader. She does so right from the start in her new book, Stand by Me, which may explain why it has gone straight to the top of the Irish bestseller charts. But then most of O'Flanagan's books do.

Caterer Lizzie finds herself with Domino (Dominique) Delehaye, one half of the Dazzling Delehayes as they were known by a once fond, but now frenzied, media. It takes all Lizzie's willpower to contain her curiosity. "Is it a housewarming?", she asks. Domino throws her a ghost of a smile and explains that no, "It's a divorce party!"

Having teased us with the present, O'Flanagan then takes us on a detour to the past, introducing us to a slightly less impressive earlier version of Dazzling Domino. Dominique (called after St Dominic) is not just a child of the 1980s but comes from a very Irish Catholic family. Her good-looking brother becomes a priest. On leaving school she becomes a waitress in a burger joint and begins to enjoy her new financial freedom. This only magnifies her brother's godliness!

Dominique decides to put her limited grasp of sex education to the test with Brendan Delehaye, a young builder who is quite taken with this girl who has white glasses and ceiling-high hair.

It's not long before poor Dominique finds herself being punished -- as her mother might point out -- for her premarital shenanigans. At barely 18, she finds herself pregnant.

Brendan, however, does the right thing. With no shortage of plans for the future, he proposes to Domino. They begin their marriage in sunny Majorca, giving them a taste of what might be in the future. Brendan then sets about buying a piece of land, builds a house on it, and tells Domino this is the first of many to come. Though he has the drive, Brendan is somewhat lacking in terms of managing the day-to-day finances of the business, and Domino steps up to help.

Domino goes on to live a charmed existence as the wife of one of Ireland's most successful businessmen. That is, until the day he disappears, leaving his company in disarray and Domino and their daughter to face the music.

Stand By Me is the story not just of Domino's survival but of how she recovers and blossoms. It's her journey from stay-at-home mum and dependent wife to a strong and happy woman taking charge of her own destiny.

We see her move on, deciding to have dinner with a new man . . . and then Brendan reappears, handsome and charming as ever, expecting life to carry on as before.

This book is not just about differences of opinion between husband and wife or his law-breaking approach to accounting. It's not just about troubled marriages or memories of the garish 1980s. Stand By Me is a book about a woman finding herself and her self-worth.

The characters in the book are well thought out and real. O'Flanagan uses her minor characters to deal with a number of sensitive issues: entitlement, infidelity, religion, depression. There are a few plot points that seem a little strained, but generally this is a convincing and enjoyable read. A book for the times we live in.

Irish Independent

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