Saturday 7 December 2019

Cyberbullying tackled in gripping family drama

Fiction: Our Secrets and Lies, Sinéad Moriarty, Penguin, paperback, 448 pages, €16

Light touch: Sinéad Moriarty treats her topics with sensitivity. Photo: Ronan Lang/Feature File
Light touch: Sinéad Moriarty treats her topics with sensitivity. Photo: Ronan Lang/Feature File
Secrets and Lies by Sinéad Moriarty

Ann Dunne

Over the past 12 years, Sinéad Moriarty has been tackling uncomfortable and painful subjects and weaving them into compelling, thought-provoking stories. Whether it is infertility problems, anorexia or euthanasia, Moriarty treats her topics with sensitivity but also with warmth and a sense of humour, which unsurprisingly has led to her becoming a bestselling author.

Her 13th novel, Our Secrets and Lies, deals with a relatively new issue which is horrifying modern parents and causing endless anguish and worse for children - the problem of cyberbullying.

Life is good for Lucy Murphy. At 21, she is an A-student in her third year studying law with a bright future and a boyfriend Tom. Her working-class parents couldn't be more proud. But her dreams are shattered when she finds she is pregnant with twins. Lucy is accused of being a slut and a gold-digger by Tom's rich father, Gabriel, who sends Tom away. Humiliated, Lucy is determined that her twins, Dylan and Kelly, will be successful and get to have the wonderful life that she has been denied.

Seventeen years later and still driven by Gabriel's disdain all those years ago, single-mum Lucy is thrilled when her twins earn scholarships to Tom's old private school for their final two school years. While Dylan settles in, gets a hot girlfriend and becomes a popular star football player, Kelly is bullied from the start and misses her old school friends.

But Lucy, having had her own ambitions thwarted, is so caught up in her children's successful futures, she is not aware of what they really want right now.

Kelly is miserable and the bullying is relentless. It continues after school, with taunts and harassment from her tormentors on Facebook and WhatsApp. On top of that, Lucy is so afraid of another unplanned pregnancy that she bans Kelly from seeing her lovely boyfriend, Sean, the only lightness in an otherwise bleak world.

It is not until the unthinkable ­happens that Lucy, with support from friends and family, realises what is really important in life before it is too late.

Displaying her usual brilliance and understanding of family dynamics, Moriarty documents the sheer horror of cyberbullying - the insidious daily drain on a child's ­confidence, the feelings of ­worthlessness and the inability to tell parents or teachers what is happening.

The book is timely. Cyberbullying is causing so much despair and tragedy that Google Play and Apple have just removed Sarahah, an app which has been used for cyberbullying.

While Moriarty shows deep insight into what it is like to be the outsider, she also injects plenty of touches of humour and forges a very satisfactory denouement when the odious Gabriel gets his comeuppance.

Our Secrets and Lies is heartfelt and deeply moving but also so gripping, it is almost impossible to put down. Once again, this author has kept me reading late into the night.

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