Monday 21 January 2019

Three landmark birthdays, three life-changing events

Fiction: The Year that Changed Everything, Cathy Kelly, Orion, paperback, 400 pages, €16

Life-affirming: This Cathy Kelly's 19th novel. Picture By David Conachy.
Life-affirming: This Cathy Kelly's 19th novel. Picture By David Conachy.
The Year that Changed Everything by Cathy Kelly

Ann Dunne

Since she burst on to the scene over 20 years ago with her debut, Woman to Woman, Cathy Kelly has become hugely successful, with a worldwide following and millions of books in print.

Some years ago, Kelly knocked Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code off the No 1 slot and she made it into the list of bestselling authors of the decade in 2009. In the intervening years, she has continued to produce bestsellers, most recently Secrets of a Happy Marriage.

For her 19th novel, Kelly focuses on three very different women, all strangers to each other but who share a birthday on a day which will completely change their lives. Only one of them is expecting change. After years of failed fertility treatments, Sam is finally pregnant with doting husband Ted. But when she gives birth to baby India on her 40th birthday, Sam is terrified she won't be up to the task and will be a bad mother just like her own distant mum.

For Callie, it's her 50th and her controlling husband Jason has organised a huge celebrity-filled party at their large mansion - a far cry from their working-class roots. Former model Callie spends her life shopping, having expensive salon treatments and worrying about their teenage daughter Poppy's sense of entitlement and taste for luxury. Callie can't wait for the party to be over but is shocked when it ends unexpectedly with a visit from the fraud squad and Jason doing a runner. Poppy and Callie are left without a penny to their name. Their housekeeper Brenda takes them into her small house, but hounded by the media, Callie has only one option. She had to return home to Ballyglen and the family she hasn't seen in 10 years.

Probably the most endearing character is Ginger. Funny and clever but full of self-doubt, she is overweight and has never had a boyfriend. It's her 30th birthday and also her best friend Liza's wedding. When a friend of the groom pays her attention, she is thrilled until she overhears Liza disparaging her looks and weight. Humiliated and devastated, she spends her 30th birthday night at home alone.

With lots of twists and turns, the three women must overcome adversity but still don't meet and the reader is left wondering what they have in common apart from issues with their mothers. Ginger's mum died when she was a baby, Sam's is cold and Callie hasn't spoken to hers in years. Kelly drops a few hints but leaves the reader in the dark for most of the book. This device keeps the pages turning until a year later, when all has been revealed and three very changed women celebrate a birthday.

Fans will delight in the familiar themes and sensitivity which run through Kelly's novels - whether it's opulence and poverty in today's Ireland, overcoming heartbreak and loss or the always wise and kindly aunt-figure who helps show protagonists the way. Life-affirming and heart-warming.

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