Thursday 26 April 2018

Review: Fiction: Would I Lie To You? by Clare Dowling

Headline, £13.99, pbk, 320 pages
Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350

'I trained as an actress years ago, but I always seemed to end up playing the love interest or the old hag, and so I started writing my own material and performing it. For years I wrote plays, before drifting into writing scripts for film and television. Thirteen years ago, I wrote my first novel. I still write for television and am halfway through novel number 10."

Clare Dowling certainly believes in making the most of her talents. The Fair City scriptwriter has developed a best-selling literary career thanks to her feisty 30 and 40-something characters who face a myriad of life's woes including divorce, HIV, fertility treatment and infidelity.

You could be forgiven for thinking that women could be tired of the seemingly endless conveyor belt of Irish female writers with their inoffensive tales of modern-day maladies. For every Marian Keyes, whose ability to weave a thread of darkness through a frothy tale is truly unmatched, there are countless easily forgotten tales that almost seem to insult their readers' intelligence.

Although the all-too-competitive Irish chick-lit market should be saturated at this stage, it appears we have an insatiable appetite for the kind of escapism they offer. We may have Angela Merkel to thank for their continued popularity.

Their appeal isn't surprising. When done right, there's nothing more enjoyable than settling down with a good example of the species and losing yourself in its engaging story. Think of the well-drawn tales of the aforementioned Marian Keyes, as well as Cecelia Ahern, Sinead Moriarty and many more. But this genre is formulaic, and writers who've got it sussed can sometimes be a bit too prolific for their own good.

Certainly, the bright pink cover of Dowling's latest novel Would I Lie To You? suggests a standard tale of three women and their intertwined lives. There's nothing unusual about this motif in contemporary woman's fiction, but thankfully the experienced Dowling brings a lightness of touch to what could have been a bland recounting of an all-too-familiar tale.

Hannah, Ellen and Barbara shared digs as students and have been best friends ever since. But their easy friendship enters dangerous territory when Hannah's partner Ollie, the father of her daughter Cleo, unexpectedly walks out. The repercussions of his parents' break-up has spread through the generations.

Several years earlier, Ellen and her husband Mark moved to France, settling in a converted farmhouse where they're trying to live the rural dream. In an attempt to rebuild her shattered soul, a devastated Hannah takes refuge with them. And Barbara, who has her own problems to cope with -- in the form of a painful adoption process -- goes with her.

However, Ellen and Mark's passionate relationship is no longer what it seems and as she struggles to maintain a perfect façade in front of her best friends, a shocking event takes place that threatens to destroy forever the bonds between the three women.

Kilkenny-born Dowling knows her audience and those many fans won't be disappointed with her latest literary foray. She stands out in a crowded market thanks to her sharp observations, well-drawn characters and all-too-realistic dilemmas.

As for that much-needed escapism that we all crave? Don't worry, Dowling delivers -- in spades!

Rowena Walsh

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