Thursday 17 October 2019

Ann Devine, Ready for her Close-Up: A hilarious, heart-warming love letter to Irish mammies

Fiction: Ann Devine, Ready for Her Close-Up

Colm O'Regan

Transworld Ireland, paperback, 368 pages, €16

Nuanced: O'Regan has built a fantastic cast
Nuanced: O'Regan has built a fantastic cast
Ready for Her Close-Up by Ann Devine

Meadhbh McGrath

Colm O'Regan is known for his bestselling Irish Mammies books, and in his first novel, he turns his focus to one particular Irish mammy, Ann Devine.

When we meet Ann, she and her husband Denis are gearing up for the imminent departure of their son Rory, the youngest of four children and the last to leave the family home in Kilsudgeon. Faced with an empty nest, Ann decides to volunteer for the new Tidy Towns committee, and lands herself the position of vice-chairperson.

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Between preparations for the Tidy Towns competition and her day job as an elderly carer - not to mention the increasingly punctilious demands of her chilly boss - Ann notices an influx of man bun-wearing visitors, requesting kefir in the local café and driving around in 4x4s with Northern licence plates.

It turns out to be the film crew for an epic TV series set to rival Game of Thrones - and due to begin filming on the patch of land that had been promised to Ann for a new town park.

As the production woos Kilsudgeon with its superfast broadband and Hollywood stars, Ann finds herself becoming more and more entangled in the local drama, and more and more suspicious of Patsy Duggan, Kilsudgeon's Independent TD and mentor to her youngest son.

In the wake of Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen's publishing phenomenon Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling, it's no surprise that we're seeing another fictional heroine based in rural Ireland, but what does surprise is how warm, charming and laugh-out-loud funny Ann Devine, Ready For Her Close-Up is.

Those bristling at the idea of O'Regan, a 40-year-old man, writing from a 54-year-old woman's perspective can rest assured that the Cork native's approach is never mean-spirited or patronising: his Ann is a woman of great humour, heart and loyalty, a character you'll be rooting for and will miss once the final page is turned.

Everyone has an Ann Devine in their lives, and most of us probably have one in our own family. But however recognisable Ann may be, O'Regan opts against a predictable ending: as Ann's moral compass is challenged, the story takes an unexpected, more nuanced turn.

Outside of Ann, O'Regan has built a fantastic cast of characters, from slippery politician Patsy to Ann's feminist warrior niece Freya to her lonely care patient Flash Lordan. Then there's the TV series, The Celts, starring Hollywood boozehound Cody Bryan in a hasty mishmash of Cúchulainn, Queen Maeve, Fionn Mac Cumhaill and any other number of Irish legends - topped off, inevitably, with heaps of gratuitous nudity. While it may lack the poignancy of the Aisling books, Ann Devine, Ready For Her Close-Up is consistently funny, which excuses the odd dip into cliché.

It roars along, taking in a Nathan Carter-­esque pop concert, a viciously competitive table quiz, the plight of rural broadband, a primer for the Rose of Tralee dubbed 'Miss Road Frontage', and Ann's starring role in a viral video.

Packed with familiar phrases and references, O'Regan's acute observations ensure plenty of hilarious moments, but there's also great affection for Ireland's small towns and villages, which provides a nice counter to doomsday news coverage of rural life.

One scene sees Ann and Denis forced to watch the "proper telly" when their Netflix connection fails midway through an episode. "Another report on rural Ireland. We're emptying, apparently," Ann surmises. "I don't know why we're still alive at all," her husband replies.

But life in Kilsudgeon is full, and in Ann's case, overflowing. Ann Devine, Ready For Her Close-Up is a little ray of sunshine, sure to delight expats, mammies and children alike. Here's hoping there's a sequel.

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