Thursday 19 September 2019

The Start of Summer by Alison Walsh: Nostalgic yet unsettling tale of new motherhood

Fiction: The Start of Summer

Alison Walsh

Hachette €14.99

Alison Walsh's fourth novel avoids being sugary
Alison Walsh's fourth novel avoids being sugary
The Start of Summer

Anne Cunningham

Three young first-time mothers meet weekly in the local park to discuss the ups and downs of new motherhood. A fourth, Elise, is welcomed as a newbie although with reservations, as her nouveau riche status fails to impress. But then the others are privately consumed with their own problems.

This is an unusual novel. A reader expecting the sugary feelgood of all us girlfriends together might be surprised. The four disparate characters are more than a tad quirky, including Lina, who's rearing her daughter as gender neutral, insisting that the child be referred to as "them". Extreme domestic violence is Jane's most urgent problem, while the flashy-chav Elise never feels good enough. But when Grace is forced to cut short her maternity leave and then suffers an instance of memory loss, the plot really starts to simmer.

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For women who remember that unique time of life when they're placed slightly on the margins of the 'real world' while they handle night feeds, cracked nipples and haz-chem nappies, there's plenty of nostalgia here.

Yet it's not new motherhood, but rather the character flaws in all four women that stand out. The 'rule' in fiction writing of giving the reader at least one person they can root for appears to have been abandoned - very consciously - in Walsh's fourth novel and the result is rather unsettling.

Although all four friends survive their respective crises, they're a tough bunch to warm to. That said, Walsh appears to dismiss the "having it all" mentality promoted by the likes of Sheryl Sandberg with her Lean In philosophy. Anne-Marie Casey's 2016 satirical novel The Real Liddy James took a similar stance. Like Casey, it would seem that Alison Walsh has her doubts.

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