Books: Endearing tale about friendship and love that will endure long after the summer's gone
Fiction: The Summer Guest, Emma Hannigan,Hachette Ireland, pbk, £12.99, 372 pages
The main character in this novel is one of a rare breed; the perfectly healthy fertile woman who doesn't ever want to have children. Lacking the maternal urge that women are supposedly born with, the ultra-stubborn Lexie Collins fleshes out and becomes real – a cartoon scribble in this genre she ain't.
The Summer Guest is a seventh offering from the best-selling author of Perfect Wives and Driving home for Christmas. Bray-based Emma Hannigan is also author of a memoir Talk to the Headscarf, which movingly charts her journey through cancer.
Lexie lives in Caracove Bay, at number three Cashel Square – a house by the sea herself and her husband Sam have put their heart and soul into renovating. Lexie's life with Sam is busy and happy, her art gallery is thriving, and she's close to their substitute daughter, her troubled niece, Amelie.
Her lot almost seems too idyllic, on page one we read: "As she crossed the kitchen to the bay window seat, her leather-soled ballerina pumps made a satisfying sound as they connected with the wax wooden floorboards. She perched on a long, spongy cushion and gazed out into the oval, railed-in park opposite."
Readers first meet Lexie through what she has, but grow to like her more as who she really is slowly emerges.
A serious rift in her marriage, and increasing pressure from her mother to have a baby, are soon threatening to tear Lexie's picture-perfect life apart. Just as she is about enter stormy seas, an unexpected stranger arrives at her door. The mystery woman is Kathleen Williams, an American who is longing to see the house she was born in over 60 years ago.
A friendship is quickly struck up, and Kathleen moves into an apartment in the basement of number three for that life-changing summer.
As Lexie declares that herself and Sam are never going to have a family, all around Lexie are falling pregnant and she begins to question her decision, losing a sense of her own identity in the process.
As Lexie's drama unfolds, 17-year-old Amelie lurches from one spectacular crisis to another, and also makes number three her home. Meanwhile, the most sympathetic character in the book, Kathleen, ploughs on – making friends wherever she goes and supporting Lexie and Amelie – despite her own unrelenting grief for a loved one.
Hannigan's major achievement in this novel is the skillful weaving together of heavy subjects into what is ultimately a thoroughly enjoyable, uplifting read.
Her writing is faultless – and the twist in the tale at the end leaves the reader looking back over the book with fresh eyes.
This fast-paced and endearing novel is about friendship between women, accepting yourself and trusting your own judgment.
But it is also about marital strife, the devastation of having a special-needs child, teenage angst and finding a way to live again after the death of a loved one.
Hats – or headscarves – off to you, Ms Hannigan for a truly touching tale written with pace, punchiness and panache.
- Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350