Friday 17 January 2020

Stunning revelations of a forgotten past life by the 'fix-it' mother waking up from a coma

Fiction: Second Time Around, Colette Caddle, Simon & Schuster, pbk, 450 pages, €16.99

Delightful novel: Colette Caddle
Delightful novel: Colette Caddle
Second Time Around by Colette Caddle

Anne Cunningham

Imagine waking up from a prolonged coma with a traumatic brain injury caused by an accident. Imagine that, although you remember how to walk and talk, there are whole swathes of your life that you don't recall, massive chunks of it. Imagine how your adult children would feel if you barely knew them, much less remembered the details of their lives.

How exactly would you cope as a mother with the slow, tortuous piecing together of the remnants of yourself and of a life you only half-remember living? You can stop imagining now, as Colette Caddle has done it all for you in her latest novel, Second Time Around. Suzie Connors wakes up to that very situation.

She is 48 years old, she has three adult children, the youngest still in college, and she's determined to put her life back on track. But with significant holes in her memory, coupled with her impatience to quickly fill in the gaps and join the dots, she's in for a rough ride. Despite the best of her children's intentions, they sometimes don't appear to be helping at all. Her eldest daughter, Jess, is seeing a married man with a bad reputation. Her second daughter, Sharon, appears to be smothering her son (the little boy from hell), and her student son, Noel, has taken to stealing her prescription sedatives.

To further muddy the waters, as if they weren't cloudy enough, her sister, Mandy, has decided that she and Suzie are the closest of siblings, although they never were before, and with good reason. But Suzie can't remember why she had previously given Mandy a wide berth.

She imagines herself as a grieving widow, although her husband is years dead. She doesn't - at first - remember that her husband was not anything like the beatified near-saint she thinks he was. And she's met someone from her past that she actually does remember; her sister's boss, Douglas. But her sister has no knowledge of Suzie knowing Douglas many years ago, before her marriage. And Mandy secretly has her own designs on Douglas, or at least on his money.

In an attempt to do something positive, Suzie adopts a retired assistance dog and they quickly bond. She doesn't remember that her eldest daughter is phobic, having suffered a horrendous attack as a child. Suzie simply doesn't remember. Tiring easily, and being driven slowly mad from babysitting her only grandchild - the little lad from hell - she demands some answers from her two oldest and closest friends. They tread softly, aware that Suzie could end up in a tailspin over any big or sudden revelations. And Dubliner Colette Caddle has many, many revelations up her sleeve…

This funny and poignant family saga tracks the fate of Suzie and her often despairing children as they struggle with their respective roles within a family badly shaken by the recent changes.

Sometimes farcical and sometimes touching, it chronicles the story of a family redefining itself, reeling in the aftermath of a crisis that nobody could have foreseen. It also, in typical Caddle style, questions the role of the "fix-it" mother, the person everyone runs to with their problems. What are they to do when Mum is the problem? Each character in this finely structured plot is now required to face their own issues, and to find their own solutions, since they no longer have their mother to do it for them.

They must now protect Suzie in a curious role-reversal, while still respecting her dignity and independence. How they all find their respective ways is the fabric of this entertaining and delightful novel.

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