Saturday 18 November 2017

Review: Fiction: The Other Woman by Siobhan McKenna

Poolbeg Press, €15.99
Available with free P&P on or by calling 091 709350

Ever since hand-maidens of the Aztec emperor Montezuma served gold cups brimming with a mixture of chocolate honey and spices to Spanish explorers, people have been crediting chocolate with aphrodisiacal effects.

But sensible people know better -- we know that the opposite sex is merely a substitute for chocolate. Besides, it's so much more reliable.

Siobhan McKenna is a second cousin of the late actress. Her first title, 'The Lingerie Designer', won TV3's Write a Best Seller competition and was shortlisted by the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards. McKenna's second novel is all about choccie-porn descriptions.

It centres on a Dublin chocolate emporium and its owners Owen and Katherine Kennedy as they prepare to celebrate a centenary of business. The business is thriving but the Kennedys' marriage is falling apart.

This book is also about the erotic, emotional, even spiritual delights women of a certain age can discover under foreign skies.

Setting is vital in this kind of book, as are culinary ingredients. We're talking oozingly, yet subtly and flatteringly aspirational.

Ruby Hart is the Kennedys' right-hand woman and is separated from her husband. She is sent to Italy to organise a business collaboration with an Italian vineyard. Under a Tuscan sun, Ruby falls truly and madly for the Fonz: a cardboard cutout Italian stallion with a Roman nose, tight jeans and a partiality for the ladies.

Meanwhile, Katherine heads off to Kenya to seek out cocoa beans for the business. She winds up playing Meryl Streep and Robert Redford with a Maasai called Enzi.

To write a tale of two women's discovery of lust and cocoa without falling into cliché is not easy. But once the action moves back to Dublin again, there are some proper startling moments.

Yet McKenna is too kindly a writer to let her story end without redemption. When her characters find it, it is too easily won to be completely credible.

Nevertheless, the writing is perfectly assured and this is great escapism for newly separated chocoholics.

Lorraine Courtney

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