Review: Fiction: Even Better Than the Real Thing by Martina Reilly
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Martina Reilly, much like Larry, a character in her latest novel, has used a few different names in her career. For her award-winning teenage fiction she wrote under the name Martina Murphy and when she switched to adult fiction 10 years ago, she started off as Tina Reilly, finally settling on Martina Reilly under the advice of her previous publishers.
Even better than the Real Thing is the bestselling novelist's first book with Hachette Ireland, showing the publishers believe that there is still a demand for women's fiction despite the genre's declining figures.
Reilly got the idea for her book when she saw a programme about thieves who used their daughter as a distraction to steal from jewellers. She wondered if the daughter knew she was being used in the scam and from this the idea for the book grew.
Reilly has said that the central question of the novel is: "How would you react if you discovered one of your parents was not who they said they are?" This is the dilemma facing Eve, her main character.
Eve is a 28-year-old artist who lives in a post-Celtic Tiger 'ghost' apartment block on the outskirts of Dublin. She leads a simple, uncluttered life making her living selling copies of paintings by the masters.
Her friends encourage her to paint originals but a sense of loyalty to her dead father, who taught her how to recreate the masters, prevents her from taking the step.
Eve's safe and somewhat dull existence is blown apart when she discovers that her beloved father, with the help of family friend Robert, has passed off one of her paintings as an original and has €11m sitting in a bank account for Eve and her mother.
Devastated at her father's betrayal, Eve is overcome with visions of being hauled into prison and decides the only way she can rest easy is to get the painting back and return the money.
Enter Larry, Eve's handsome, mysterious and flirty neighbour who conveniently happens to be an ex-conman. The pair, against the wishes of her friends and family, concoct a plan to get the painting back.
So the naive young artist heads off to America with a man of dubious character who never quite explains to her exactly what the plan is.
She is thrown into a world of fake identities, faker hair and an ever-growing suspicion that Larry hasn't quite left his conning ways behind.
While she struggles in this frightening world of deception, she is forced to come to terms with the falseness in her own life. On top of this, she is finding it increasingly difficult to ignore her romantic feelings for Larry.
Reilly maintains the tension right up to the last pages, keeping the reader unsure of Larry's real intentions. Eve, however, is not as likable as the worldly conman and it is difficult to see why he is risking his freedom for a wishy-washy scaredy-cat who does not seem to have any real experience of the world.
However, the novel about a young woman's awakening to life's potential is a pleasant read, full of twists, turns and tension.