Wednesday 23 October 2019

Seven Letters by Sinead Moriarty: A mum-to-be on life support and a family divided

Fiction: Seven Letters

Sinéad Moriarty

Penguin, paperback, 448 pages, €13.99

Trademark warmth: Sinéad Moriarty. Photo: Tom Burke
Trademark warmth: Sinéad Moriarty. Photo: Tom Burke
Seven Letters by Sinéad Moriarty

Ann Dunne

Bestselling Irish author Sinéad Moriarty is well known for getting to grips with distressing topics. In the past she has written about anorexia, euthanasia and infertility.

Her last novel, Our Secrets and Lies, dealt with cyberbullying, a relatively new phenomenon which has been troubling modern parents.

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Moriarty's stories are always compelling and thought-provoking. They get right to the heart of the matter with so much empathy that it is impossible not to be moved by her books.

Her new novel, Seven Letters, focuses on a particularly harrowing dilemma for a family: how to proceed with the care of a pregnant mother on life support.

This family has its fair share of happiness and problems. Stay-at-home mum Sarah and her husband Adam have survived the recession and Adam's business is booming again. After years of anguish and loss, they are finally expecting their second child, a brother to seven-year-old daughter Izzy. Mother and daughter are inseparable, and apart from Adam being away with work too much, life is looking good.

Meanwhile, Sarah's older sister Mia is having some troubles. Her journalist husband Johnny has lost his job and despite numerous interviews, he hasn't managed to find work yet. So Mia has taken on extra to keep up the family finances and is constantly worried about money.

She is also dealing with a difficult teenager, Riley, who has turned from an adorable little girl into a stranger. Mia and her sister Sarah are very close - best friends who can communicate with just a glance, and Sarah is the buffer between Mia and Riley.

The sisters lost their beloved mother a few years ago and their father, Charlie, has taken up with a new woman, Olivia, leading to mixed feelings, especially from Mia. But nothing can prepare them for what happens next. Sarah suddenly collapses and is on life support.

Despite getting several medical opinions, the doctors can't give them any hope. Adam is adamant that he wants to give the baby a fighting chance. Opinions differ as the days pass and Sarah's condition begins to deteriorate. Ethical questions arise.

Her dad wants to give her a dignified death. As the family gather around Sarah's hospital bed, exhaustion sets in and tempers flare. Instead of being united in grief, the family is being torn apart until finally lawyers are involved.

To add to the family's woes, a reporter from a local tabloid is snooping around the hospital, which leads Johnny to make a kind of Faustian pact. The tension is palpable. How are the family going to explain it all to little Izzy, who is about to make her First Communion and thinks her mum will wake up for her big day? Can the family ever be reunited?

Once again, Moriarty demonstrates her considerable skills as a writer, drawing the threads together and bringing the book to a satisfactory conclusion amid optimism and hope. With her trademark warmth, sense of humour and ability to tell a good story, she is often favourably compared to both Jodi Picoult and Marian Keyes.

Seven Letters is her 14th novel. Emotional, honest and funny with interesting, well-drawn characters, it looks set to join the previous 13 as another bestseller.

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