Thursday 18 January 2018

Books: One drink too many sparks off an engaging tale

The Pink Pepper Tree, Muriel Bolger, Hachette Ireland, €14.99

Muriel Bolger
Muriel Bolger
'The Pink Pepper Tree' by Muriel Bolger

Anne Cunningham

'When the past comes calling, you shouldn't answer the phone." So writes Muriel Bolger in the closing pages of her latest novel, The Pink Pepper Tree.

Her new book, however, recounts June Cusack's past from page seven onwards. The story opens in the present, with June calmly refusing to attend her husband's funeral. Why not? Because of the past, and it being another country and them doing things differently there. In that past, we encounter June as a successful wine merchant, happily waiting on her boyfriend Peter, owner of The Pink Pepper Tree restaurant, to propose.

Before her inevitable marriage, she decides to holiday in Europe with her lifelong friend, Danielle. One drink too many in Monte Carlo marks the start of June's unravelling.

To add to her troubles, she returns to Dublin to find her boyfriend Peter's head has been turned in her absence by the beautiful architect, Zoe.

That said, this is not a dark book. The story takes us to the French Riviera, South Africa, Portugal and dear old Dublin, written as it is by one of the country's foremost travel writers (several of her novels have had foreign sojourns and her last novel The Captain's Table was inspired by a Mediterranean cruise in 2011).

So the author knows about travel and exotic locations and I imagine knows more than a little about her wines, too.

Her affection for Dublin, though, is a persistent pulse throughout this latest novel. While everyone in the cast of characters travels extensively, they all end up back in The Big Smoke eventually.

Hardly surprising, really, as Muriel Bolger has also written several works of non-fiction on her native city, bagging an award for her book Dublin: City of Literature.

This, her fourth novel, is as much an affectionate nod to her hometown as it is a work of fiction. "Engaging" is a word that pops up again and again in reviews of Muriel Bolger's books. I certainly wouldn't argue with that.

This novel engages throughout, and although a little slow, the plot does leave the reader wondering how things will end up. Isn't that a fait accompli for any novelist? That, and the odd smattering of wisdom, like not answering the phone on the past. Maybe it's time I changed my number.

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