Thursday 22 February 2018

It's a helluva town for a woman

TV and film writer Anne-Marie Casey's first novel, set in New York, is a more realistic take on the 'Sex and the City' idea.

Anne Marie Casey, author and wife of Joseph O'Connor
Photo: Tony Gavin
Anne Marie Casey, author and wife of Joseph O'Connor Photo: Tony Gavin
Anne with her husband Joseph O'Connor.

Yvonne Hogan

There is little doubt that the debut novel from screenwriter Anne-Marie Casey, which she has dedicated to her husband, the novelist Joseph O'Connor, will very soon be coming to a cinema, or a television screen near you.

It's perfect for the screen, which is no surprise since Casey has been an accomplished scriptwriter and editor for TV and film here and in Britain over the past decade.

The narrative of her first novel centres around four middle-aged married women living in New York, all fighting varying degrees of ennui and dissatisfaction. It's a more sophisticated and more realistic Sex and the City.

First there is Lucy, the titular Englishwoman, a spoiled 'housewife' – in that she managed the nanny and the housekeeper – who has decamped from her luxury London home to the Big Apple with husband Richard and their two boys.

Having realised that her husband is so broke that he is not worth divorcing, home for Lucy is now the cramped apartment that Richard had bought during the boom to use as a hotel room, and work for Richard is a low-level management position in the company where he was previously a high-flyer. Lucy is forced to become hands-on with her boys and it is through them, at the school gates, that she comes to know the other three characters.

Julia is a successful and driven television writer, also with two children, who is married to but separated from the considerably less-driven yoga teacher Kristian. Julia lives in an apartment in the city while Kristian and the children live elsewhere. Julia has lots of therapy to cope with her complicated feelings about motherhood and her fraught and disappointing relationship with her own mother.

Then there is Christy, trophy wife to a much older wealthy man and mother of twins Sinead and Sorcha, named in homage to the Irish student who donated the egg from which they were conceived. Christy is magnetically drawn to John Paul, the young Irish doorman in her building.

Completing the quartet is Robyn, the earthy, chubby, sexy, down-to-earth working mother who seems to dislike the other three intensely. She is thrown together with the others in a rather rushed plot device that results in the women attending an Equine Assisted Learning weekend – some sort of therapy involving horses. They are joined by Lianne, Christy's spoiled, rather absurd, middle-aged stepdaughter.

It is here that the novel falters. It feels as if Casey, having drawn these characters, is at a loss as to what to do with them. The storyline just doesn't do the writing justice. It feels like a mere episode in a bigger story.

Perhaps the novel is the wrong format for Casey's women. This book would have worked better had it borrowed the form of Maeve Binchy's Dublin 4 or The Lilac Bus, and told the separate stories of these very different women who just happened to share a geographical location.

It is certainly rich fodder for a TV series. Even though the plot was unsatisfactory, the reader is engaged enough by the characters to go back for more.

That is not to say that Casey has not made the leap from screenwriter and adapter of other people's writing – she has worked with the aforementioned Binchy and was responsible for the highly successful 2011/2012 adaptation of Little Women at The Gate – to writer. She has.

It is a perfectly enjoyable read, well written, with lots of intelligent observations on what it means to be a mother and a wife. Julia, in particular, is a well drawn and fascinating character that offers an honest glimpse at what happens when a workaholic becomes a mother. The little glimpses we get of Julia's mother are also tantalising and leave the reader wanting more.

Irish Independent

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