Entertainment Books

Thursday 17 October 2019

Aisling shows the importance of being earnest in this ever-cynical world

Fiction: The Importance Of Being Aisling, Sarah Breen and Emer McLysaght, Gill €14.99

The Importance Of Being Aisling by Sarah Breen and Emer McLysaght
The Importance Of Being Aisling by Sarah Breen and Emer McLysaght

Sophie White

I believe that The Importance Of Being Aisling, the sequel to the smash hit Oh My God What A Complete Aisling (OMGWACA) by co-authors Sarah Breen and Emer McLysaght, should come with a health warning. Ten pages in my face hurts from grinning and my neck hurts from nodding along in recognition at the universal wisdoms bestowed by the titular Aisling (on the subject of hotel mini-bars: "They know if your fingers even graze the tiny bottles… and they charge you").

The trajectory of the Aisling phenomenon has been astounding. A hangover day for friends, Breen and McLysaght spawned a Facebook page detailing the exploits of a certain type of sensible country girl baulking at a 'notions' world. Soon the page had tens of thousands of followers and inspired a bestseller, there's a film currently in development - and now here's the sequel.

The first book empowered Aislings all over to embrace their Aisling credentials. Leo Varadkar invoked the fictional 20-something on the subject of the Eighth Amendment. She's been appointed the "real voice of Ireland" by John Boyne. There's even been thinkpieces about this girl - essentially an Irish mammy in training, the friend who always has a spare mac-in-a-sack.

The first book saw Aisling weather a tough year. She and long-time boyfriend John hit a rocky patch. She lost her father. However she found a new perspective on what matters in life, and gave us a national treasure in the process. She is so beloved, I'm nervous even attempting to convey her essence lest I filter it through my Dublin ways and disturb an army of Aislings so fiercely loyal to this icon that they appear, camogies in hand, to defend her honour.

She is an everywoman, there's a little bit of Aisling in all of us, even a Jackeen like me (I'd die before paying for a taxi when there's a perfectly good Aircoach due in 60 minutes) but she has now earned her place among Bosco, Tayto and Joe Duffy as an Irish institution.

In the second instalment, Aisling is thrown a few curve balls prompting a decision to move back Down Home and rethink her entire plan. Enjoyable set pieces, like Christmas Down Home and a messy girls' weekend in Vegas, punctuate the story, but as with the first book, so much of the charm is in the detail. Boyfriend John and his roommate Cillian's running commentary while watching The Great British Bake Off, best friend, Majella being struck down by a terrible 'Mass Laugh' and Aisling, herself, colliding with notions after notions - one friend dyes her hair grey to Aisling's utter bafflement.

The secret to the OMGWACA sensation is a certain simplicity. The protagonist is, for the most part, an uncomplicated and eminently likeable character. However, Breen and McLysaght make good use of their heroine's wide-eyed outlook. In the first novel, a stealth comment on Ireland's abortion laws, meant that a book that could've simply been an uncontroversial crowd-pleaser, in fact carried a very timely and urgent message about the wider culture. In the second book, the knotty subject of domestic and psychological abuse plays out in what is ultimately the most uplifting strand of the story. Two different women remake themselves after profound trauma and Aisling is there to make tea and lend a hand.

For fans of the first book, The Importance of Being Aisling delivers. There's a smile in every page, some genuinely hilarious moments, and so much heart. For any sceptics outstanding, know this: The Importance Of Being Aisling is a day-maker - the cure for cynicism, Trump, the Budget and whatever else ails you.

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