Entertainment Books

Tuesday 22 October 2019

Oh my God Aisling is back again ... and just as good

Fiction: Once, Twice, Three Times an Aisling

Emer McLysaght,

Sarah Breen Gill Books, €14.99

Another hit ... Authors Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen
Another hit ... Authors Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen
Once, Twice, Three Times an Aisling

Liadan Hynes

The origins of the OMGWACA books, now in their third iteration with last week's publication of Once, Twice, Three Times an Aisling, are by this stage almost legendary.

Aisling, a fictional creature now as beloved by Irish women as anyone who come from the pens of Marian Keyes or Maeve Binchy, two other writers whose work could also be said to sum up the essential experience of being an Irish woman, was of course the result of a Facebook group.

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The page, set up by friends, former journalists Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen, was a place to share Aislingisms, as Breen once termed them; comments about a character they saw all around them, a sort of archetype that, as self-described culchies, they both recognised.

Book one established Aisling and her world. A no-nonsense, no-notions girl from Ballygobbard, Aisling's was a world built on comforting certainties which over the course of three books, have increasingly gotten away from her. She lived with her parents, commuted to Dublin for her sensible job, went out at home every weekend with her best friend. Her dreams were to marry her boyfriend, and achieve a house with road frontage.

Things did not go to plan.

In other, less talented hands, this book would have risked being one of those novels that start with an undeniably catchy hook but never really get beyond that. A clever idea whose author never manages to flesh things out. Aisling, with all her little foibles, could have, over the course of several books, risked seeming well, something of an unsympathetic heroine; sensible, to the point of judgmental, uptight. A person who loves a spreadsheet, who obsesses over her steps and her Weight Watcher points.

In fact though, Breen and McLysaght balance out their heroine's goody two shoes traits with lashings of heart. Aisling is a kind girl, with a huge heart. "You're so easy to love," a character tells her, and it is true. The pair manage to walk the fine line between an in joke we're all in on, and a character we each, in various ways, see even a tiny bit of ourselves in.

This third book was always going to be a tricky one to execute. The exact midway point of what is said to be a five book series, this is in a way that difficult second, middle act. The excitement of the opening, establishing chapters of Aisling's story are over, but with two books still to come, there is a long way to go before we reach the satisfaction of conclusion. Nothing can be properly resolved.

As a reader it could be frustrating, but Breen and McLysaght deal with this by using it for further character development; bringing their heroine further than ever from her oh-so-sure-of-herself early days. In book three, we see Aisling overwhelmed, often at a loss. Facing her 30th birthday, life is nowhere near what her teenage self had imagined it would be.

Her trademark optimism is truly challenged. Without the emotional ballast of her father, or her ex-boyfriend, and with her friends largely otherwise occupied, Aisling is required to dig deep.

It's a theme with universal appeal that her legions of fans will no doubt identify with. Breen and McLysaght also drop a hint that suggests Aisling's path may take her far further afield than she ever dreamed.

What Aisling did next? We can't wait to see.

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