Saturday 21 April 2018

A well-crafted, contemporary tale

Fiction: A History of Running Away, Paula McGrath, John Murray, €17.99

A History of Running Away by Paula McGrath
A History of Running Away by Paula McGrath

Justine Carbery

Paula McGrath's second novel, A History of Running Away, weaves together the lives of three women, all of whom are connected and are trying to navigate an escape.

First in 2012 there's May, an eminent gynaecologist, disillusioned with the restrictive abortion laws in Ireland. She is torn between escaping to a new job in London and staying to look after her mother, who is suffering from dementia and living in a nursing home. May goes out running to de-stress, to help untangle her conflicting thoughts and come to a decision. Secondly, in Maryland, there's 16-year-old Alison, trying to escape from grandparents she doesn't know after both her parents have died. As a vulnerable runaway, she keeps running in order to find out who she really is.

Finally there's feisty Jasmine, who after a terrible row with her mother, ran away to London, only to return to equally trying circumstances in Dublin. She becomes obsessed with the idea of becoming a boxer, which at the time (1982) is illegal for women in Ireland.

All three are strong, independent women, trying to find their place in a society, which frustrates and thwarts in equal measure, but as the novel progresses, we detect a shift, in both the society that stifles, and the women growing up there.

The stories of these three women criss-cross neatly throughout the novel and culminate in a satisfying conclusion. The one difficulty however with jumping time and place is that it may take some time for the reader to get to grips with who's who. Intially I had to keep referring back to refresh my memory. Perhaps McGrath could have made the voices more distinctive. However, very soon the story takes over and you are carried along, keen to know how each one fares, and most especially what the connection between the three could be. The writing is fluid and accessible, the dialogue and setting authentic, proving Paula McGrath both a consummate storyteller and an excellent observer of human interactions.

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