Wednesday 13 November 2019

Jilly Cooper in D4 makes for a perfect holiday read

Fiction: Family Business, Muriel Bolger, Hachette Books Ireland, pbk, 345 pages, €13.99

Muriel Bolger
Muriel Bolger
Family Business
Lorraine Courtney

Lorraine Courtney

When I see a stereotypical chick-lit book cover, it usually makes me want to run for the hills. And so it was with Family Business, but something about it kept calling me back. I'm glad I stuck with this Jilly Cooper in Dublin 4 caper.

The story revolves around Anne, an ambitious young barrister working through complex family-law cases and her own love life. Anne immerses herself in her position at her father's law practice, to the delight of her parents and the not-so-hidden envy of baby sister Gabby. Anne had always wanted to be an artist but ever the dutiful daughter, she followed her dad into law and now doesn't have time to think about art-college dreams or the lack of a leading man in her busy life.

Then Anne finds herself facing barrister Daniel Hassett in court. Daniel is the archetypal romantic lead. He looks like a Barbara Cartland hero with chillingly perfect manners: "Everything about him advertised breeding, money and the self-confidence that comes naturally to those who have never had any reason to doubt themselves."

The pair seem perfectly matched and Dublin's gossip columnists write gushingly about them: "Looking like stars from central casting for some courtroom drama rather than actual working wigs, they may have been sundering one couples union, but my money is on them creating a different one of their own in the near future, perhaps even more than just a personal arrangement too."

But just as Anne and Daniel's relationship heats up, it fizzles out. Anne feels suffocated in Daniel's palatial penthouse, "the glass wall closing in on her. She had to get away". Enter a dashing doctor just back in Dublin after a stint volunteering in a Syrian refugee camp. Thankfully, Dean turns out to be gay though, so the plot is rescued from total cliché.

Bolger takes this potential cheese and skilfully weaves it into a smart, compelling, moving, sunbed-worthy read. Instead of a marriage, there are two funerals and Anne inherits a little bolthole in France. These episodes in the south of France show travel writer Bolger at her evocative best.

The premise of a young woman trying to find out how to live in the world might seem somewhat dog-eared by now, but it's done really well here. Family Business's beauty on a scene-by-scene basis (it sometimes feels like an exceptionally well-directed short film) and the slow, slippery unravelling of Anne's story keeps you reading with a magnetic power.

An unashamed romance, the plot is fairly slim, leaving the characters with little more to do than banter with each other. But the banter itself is nicely done. There's a lot of crackling back-and-forth, flirty misunderstandings and old-school sarcasm.

Bolger does loaded conversation between sharp-elbowed women very well, she has a fine feeling for the needling treacheries of older married life and her sense of pace and knack for big reveals is unparalleled. A perfect sunshine page-turner to take on holidays.

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