Saturday 17 March 2018

Review: Fiction: The Space Between US by Anna McPartlin

Poolbeg, €9.99,pbk, 368 pages
Available withfree P&P on or bycalling 091 709350

Anna McPartlin's fifth novel kicks off with a line in breathless chat salty enough to make a fishwife blush.

The earthy language that spills from gobby heroine Eve Hayes in her letter to friend Lily Brennan is honest, humorous and refreshing, but haunted by the devastating fight that will separate the two friends for nearly two decades.

A frightening and threatening future continually hovers between the lines of The Space Between Us.

If you miss the heavy sense of foreboding, it's clearly spelt out on the cover's subtitle: "If you knew you'd leave this world so soon, would you do it all differently?"

Anna McPartlin, one of the best of our popular fiction writers, never shies away from the dark side. Her own experience of tragedy -- be it depression, alcoholism or tragic death -- has informed all of her books. And you'll find all of the above here.

Yet that doesn't make for a heavy or depressing read. Quite the opposite, in fact. The main character Eve Hayes is a strident, self-absorbed businesswoman who has gone abroad to make herself a fortune in the US as a designer.

When she comes back to Ireland to nurse her dying father, she has a horrendous car accident and ends up in hospital where her old friend Lily is a nurse.

It's a rather catastrophic way to reunite old friends, but somehow it works and what follows is a warts-and-all look at the two women's lives.

Lily married her childhood sweetheart but now finds herself trapped in an unhappy marriage.

Eve, on the other hand, led a charmed existence, but has deep regrets about losing her friend's trust all those years ago.

What happened in the summer of 1990 is drip-fed to the reader through a series of letters that Eve and Lily wrote to each other. At one point, Lily's son Scott uncovers his mother's box of old letters, but says they were too boring to read. At times, this reader felt like that too.

Anna McPartlin leaves nothing out -- this book doesn't so much give you a slice of life as the whole cake. Yet, the secret that tore the women's friendship asunder is not revealed until near the end and the suspense propels you through the story's many twists and turns.

Expect McPartlin's customary humour along the way, but be prepared for her ability to hit hard: she writes in graphic detail about death, illness and violence.

The end result, though, is an entertaining, satisfying and convincing read.

Clodagh Finn

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