Books: When hopes for a baby wither under the cabbage leaf
Fiction: My Sister's Child, Caroline Finnerty, Poolbeg, tpbk, 310 pages, €16.99
How people 'get' babies fascinates almost everyone, even if it's not often publicly acknowledged. When a writer bases her book on making babies and then throws into the mix non-traditional baby-making activities such as IVF and egg donation, she ramps up the interest factor.
Add in new real-world legislation in the area of assisted reproduction (The Children and Family Relationships Act 2015) and, hey presto, you've a novel under the cabbage leaf that's not only extremely timely, but one that the reading public will want to buy. My Sister's Child is Caroline Finnerty's fourth novel. The Kildare-based author's previous offerings include In a Moment, The Last Goodbye and Into the Night Sky - the sales of which consistently had publishers at Poolbeg flashing their pearly whites. Finnerty, who has been compared to Jodi Picoult and Marian Keyes, usually puts a big dilemma at the heart of her books and this novel is no different.
My Sister's Child tells the story of Isla who, 15 years previously, donated eggs to her married sister, Jo, the result of which was her niece, Réiltín. Hurtling towards 40 and craving her own baby, Isla goes for fertility tests only to discover that she has hit early menopause and can't get pregnant - even with medical assistance. Her thoughts turn quickly to the embryo her sister still has in storage and that she's waived all her legal rights to - the one created by her own eggs all those years previously.
The standout strength of the author of this engaging read is her emotional intelligence. Finnerty absolutely 'nails' all the relationships - from the issues in Jo's marriage, to her 14-year-old nightmare of a daughter that is Réiltín (a character that this reviewer felt deserved more than one slap over the course of 310 pages), to a blood tie between the sisters consisting more of wide chasms than common ground.
Isla and Jo are polar opposites and have always had a strained relationship, compounded by a difficult upbringing. Jo is hardworking and responsible, and envies Isla her carefree lifestyle. Finnerty's characters are real, rounded people and loveable almost as much for their faults - the deep insecurities, the cloying neediness, the breathtaking selfishness, the pig-headed stubbornness (need I go on?) - as for their virtues. The climax of the novel, in which one of the characters gets into serious physical danger, brings the story to its final resolution skilfully.
My Sister's Child is a clever and layered story of love, lies and sisterhood that shines a bright light on the emotional fallout of assisted conception -and it also helps the reader understand better the plight of people whose path to parenthood is not straightforward. Now, just popping off, my cabbage leaf needs checking...