Wednesday 16 October 2019

Engaging saga of friendship, family, fate

The Privileged
Emily Hourican, Hachette Books Ireland, €17.99

Emily Hourican delivers a lively and entertaining read about friendship in her first novel The Privileged
Emily Hourican delivers a lively and entertaining read about friendship in her first novel The Privileged

Barbara Clinton

In these modern, neoliberal times, we've become used to "checking our privilege", and accepting that our problems are generally of a "first-world" order - that is, not quite as dramatic as we'd like to think.

And so to the three Musketeers of this lively and entertaining saga of friendship, family and fate. Notwithstanding the time these three spend in each other's company over the course of the novel - from school through college and into work - and the extent to which they get along, Emily Hourican manages to present three very distinct and engaging characters in Laura, Stella and Amanda.

In some ways this is the story of the children of the boom - much of the action takes place in Amanda's family home, a magnificent period residence, where new money has left its mark on the old world with all the finesse of a graffiti artist on a museum wall. And much of the core of this story centres around the gradual but devastating collapse of Amanda, a golden child of that era.

From self-assured, beautiful, popular and confident, Amanda slips into a life of sinister hedonism and we stand back to observe it all. Yet, like Amanda and her two friends, we never feel the need or inclination for pity or regret. There is a can-do attitude in these characters that carries them through - individually and collectively - to the final make-or-break moments.

It is ultimately a story of survival and redemption - but not without the learning that only experience can deliver. When all three have been challenged and perhaps revealed in ways and to depths they'd rather not have plumbed, they seem to emerge finally as young women carrying all the hope and disappointment of such a transformation.

New or old money, these characters are privileged but maybe Hourican's point is that no matter how privileged, living is still a wonderful if challenging business even within the supportive trinity of friendship in which these three move.

From the outset of The Privileged we are constantly moving forward and back across the weave of their lives. It works and the effect is twofold - the early years, from when Amanda deigned to have the other two as friends, are delivered to us with the immediacy of the present; and the young women that emerge are shown clearly living their own lives against the backdrop of their recent and intersecting selves.

But also, we are allowed to see just how the separation in time and place - Stella is working as a successful but unhappy lawyer in New York, Amanda chases her dream of movie stardom and Laura, the hippy child of an artist, stands staring into the abyss of cynicism - can only engender regret.

But in the end decency and honesty - and above all, friendship - prevail. Perhaps that is the real privilege these three enjoy.

Maybe we should try to put aside our realisation that Amanda places herself into happy pictures nobody ever paints, that Stella once again wants to work for human rights, the ideal she abandoned early in her career, and that Laura, already in some professional danger, has to face an editor having failed to deliver the story of her life - for mass consumption. And maybe we should not.

Sunday Independent

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