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A transatlantic story of loss, betrayal and recovery

Fiction: An Ocean Between Us

Ann O'Loughlin

Orion, €17.99

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A loveable monster is central to Ann O’Loughlin's fifth novel

A loveable monster is central to Ann O’Loughlin's fifth novel

An Ocean Between Us

An Ocean Between Us

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A loveable monster is central to Ann O’Loughlin's fifth novel

The novel opens in Long Island, New York with Cora receiving the news that her partner of nine years, Jack, has been killed in a road accident in Ireland. But he wasn't supposed to be in Ireland, he was supposed to be on a work trip in mainland Europe.

The even bigger shock is that two people were killed in the single-vehicle accident - Jack and his wife. What wife? Cora is obviously reeling. She had no idea. She thought their union was solid, for life. Jack had to travel extensively for work, or at least she thought it was for work. But it appears she's been duped by the love of her life. When the initial shock is absorbed, she stalls plans for her upcoming art exhibition in Manhattan and heads to Ireland. She must find answers to her many questions about Jack's double life.

She lands in De Courcy Square, a fictional city square situated in South Central Dublin, near Baggot St, where Jack and this wife of his, Amelia, lived (when he wasn't at home in New York with Cora) and - blinding though the truth is - she finds herself slowly unspooling the facts about this man who had fooled not only her, but also his Irish wife and possibly even a third woman. Turns out that Jack was a big, loveable and loud, sunshiney, lying monster. And nobody knew, least of all Cora.

Among the residents in De Courcy Square is the next-door neighbour Lily, who knows more about Jack's and Amelia's marriage than she initially lets on (Amelia had already begun to smell a rat), and there's also the residents association's busybody Gladys, a Hyacinth Bucket type who is determined to save the square and its private garden from destruction by a ruthless developer. Gladys is not nearly as bad as she initially presents. There's Lily's daughter, a brisk solicitor who wants Lily to sell up and downsize and there's a homeless girl whom Jack occasionally gave money to. In keeping with the topical, there's another homeless character, Sam, who lost it all in the bust years, drank himself into alcoholism and was ejected by his wife. In his past life he'd had dealings with this particular ruthless developer and now that he's sober he's up for resolving the crisis on the square.

In a previous novel, The Ludlow Ladies Society, O'Loughlin touched on lives that were destroyed in the boom/bust years and here she returns to this theme, but depicting consequences that are even worse than those in Ludlow. In contrast to current 'economic recovery' propaganda, O'Loughlin shows us the permanent scars still borne by those for whom this so-called economic recovery means nothing. So if it's zeitgeist you're looking for, it's delivered here in spades, but with lots of humanity and compassion. Within this motley crew of characters, the apparently well-heeled and well-homed alongside the down-at-heel and homeless, Cora will find company, comfort, solace and solutions.

Ann O'Loughlin's fifth novel reinforces those values she has depicted so well in all of her previous four bestsellers; the importance of friendship, especially in tough times, the havoc wreaked on lives by lies and deceit, the courage that must be found to rebuild our lives when they are broken. She's a dab hand at these themes and fans will not be disappointed.

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