Thursday 26 April 2018

Review: Fiction: Three Women by Marita Conlon-McKenna

Transworld, €12.99
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It's not very often that a fresh voice emerges from so-called chicklit, but Erin Harris has something to say and Marita Conlon-McKenna gives her heroine the time and space to say it in her absorbing new novel Three Women.

Erin is a happy and well-adjusted 26-year-old who has always known she was adopted, but now she wants to know more about the woman who gave birth to her all those years ago.

However, she knows only too well that there are three sides to the story -- her mother's, her own, and her biological mother's.

Marita Conlon-McKenna handles this story with exceptional grace and gives a rare insight into the secrets and lies that have surrounded Irish adoptions until very recently.

The author herself was adopted in Dublin in the late 1950s and that has certainly informed this book, but Three Women is not a personal account -- it is the work of a skilled writer who can get under the skin of her characters and bring them to full-blooded life.

Erin's adopted mother Nina always knew the day might come when her daughter would seek out her biological mother. Her blood runs cold when it finally arrives. Will she lose her daughter to a stranger?

Yet, the reader can empathise with that stranger, too. Kate Cassidy has never told her husband of 25 years about the little girl she had before she met him. How will he take it if he finds out that she has kept something so important from him?

But it is Erin, the girl with two mothers, who is most affecting.

The voice of the adopted child is often lost in the very real concerns for those who gave up children under a cloak of anonymity so many years ago, but here it rings out loud and clear.

Erin talks of the immense sense of rejection she feels, even though she was brought up by kind and loving parents. She describes the hollowness at her centre caused by so many unanswered questions.

In one deeply moving passage, she talks of her inexplicable shame and a feeling that she has done something wrong. Her character seems like the new kid on the block in Irish fiction and she's a very welcome addition.

But don't think that Three Women is a depressing story. In the hands of Marita Conlon-McKenna, who has already proven herself in adult fiction and is a bestselling writer of children's fiction, it reads like a good thriller. Will Erin meet her biological mother? Will her father's identity be revealed? Will the uncovered secret destroy everything?

That story in itself is enough to keep the pages turning but there is much more in this utterly contemporary book. It's packed full of humour, love and financial woes that charts Dublin better than any map.

Marita Conlon-McKenna on adoption -- see today's Weekend magazine

Clodagh Finn

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