Review: Fiction: You & I by Emily Gillmor Murphy
Transworld €14.99, tpbk 304 pages
Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350
Since penning her debut novel Suddenly Single in her thirties in 1999, former financial dealer Sheila O'Flanagan has produced around 20 bestsellers, with her distinctive brand of career-driven heroines, family drama and complicated love affairs.
It may seem like the kind of drastic life change experienced by one of her own creations: from a bank desk to the frothy world of chick-lit.
But don't be fooled by the saccharine title and girly cover of O'Flanagan's latest offering, Better Together. Somewhere between the covers of this ideal beach read, what starts out as a seemingly innocuous quarter-life crisis tale turns into a tense who-dunnit.
When up-and-coming sports reporter Sheridan Gray loses her job, boyfriend and flat one after another, it feels as though her idyllic Dublin life is starting to unravel.
Elsewhere in the sleepy village of Ardbawn, middle-aged mum Nina Fallon is also struggling to keep it together after the news that her actor husband Sean is having a fling with a twenty-something co-star hits the headlines.
The two women tailspin into each others' lives when Sheridan moves into Nina's guesthouse after getting a job at a local newspaper -- which happens to be owned by media mogul Paudie O'Malley, who she blames for being made redundant in the first place. Bent on revenge and convinced that 'Mr Slash-and-Burn' had something to do with the tragic death of his wife Elva years previously, it's not long before the nosy hackette starts stirring trouble in the small town.
But when a tall, dark swoonsome type enters stage left, suddenly the story which could help rescue her from a future spent covering dog shows takes on a new slant. With a whole cast of characters drawn from the Gray, Fallon and O'Malley tribes, O'Flanagan does well to juggle all the main players throughout -- neatly pleating their disparate storylines by the end.
And while the plot twists are fairly well sign-posted, getting there is no less fun. And there are still plenty of red herrings in this riverside story to reel the reader in. Ultimately in Sheridan Gray, O'Flanagan has created another fairly relatable leading lady who proves that chick-lit isn't all about getting the guy -- but it sure doesn't hurt.
The first year of college is a rite of passage which begs to be written about. Not only does it offer some scope to explore some old literary favourites -- new challenges, unfamiliar environments, coming of age -- but it also promises some salacious tales of sex, drugs and maybe a bit of rock 'n' roll.
Normally we have to look across the pond if we want to recreate those heady years on paper. But the 'frat house' genre seems too far removed from the Irish experience for us to really engage with it -- where are the wide-eyed country girls, the maiden visits to Copper Face Jacks, cans of Dutch Gold and inappropriately worn GAA jerseys?
This debut novel from Emily Gillmor Murphy -- herself a final-year student in UCD -- fills this void, providing an honest if sexed-up account of first year through the eyes of two wonderfully crafted characters.
The first is Olive -- one of these aforementioned wide-eyed country girls -- who leaves behind her troubles in Wexford with a guilty heart and tries her best to navigate through the new, confusing world of UCD.
The second is Tom, a roguish Dub from the wrong side of the tracks who's made his way into Trinity against all the odds.
Clichés both, and when they take a dislike to one another upon their first meeting it's immediately obvious how things are going to develop between them -- indeed, when Tom bets with a friend that he can get Olive into bed by term's end, there's not much to do but wait for their inevitable falling out and reconciliation.
But what Gillmor Murphy lacks in imaginative plotting, she makes up for with two intriguing, multidimensional characters.
Just as the pair discover how far off the mark their first impressions were, the reader discovers the same thing -- and where once we saw stock characters, we slowly begin to appreciate the crafted, flawed but likeable leading duo.
It's a strength which, on its own, makes the book worth reading -- but while Gillmor Murphy has shown strengths beyond her years in character development, some other choices show that she still has a lot to learn about being an author.
It's difficult to know what goes on behind the scenes during the production of any book, but the end product here does seems hurried and unfortunately unpolished.
Dialogue is clunky and unnatural, while some factual inaccuracies are startling -- at one point, a character mulls over the benefits of cycling home from work rather than taking a bus, despite the fact he's staying in an apartment off Grafton St and his place of work is on Dawson St.
It's impossible to understand why an author of Gillmor Murphy's potential and inexperience was not given some serious attention.
Ultimately it detracts from an earnest debut -- but the staying power of Tom and Olive, some days after the book has been finished, is testament to the fact that we have not heard the last of this young author.
Conditions right now provide a perfect storm for bonkbusters to become bestsellers. It's summer, the economy is rubbish and the availability of e-readers means that nobody can see you are reading smut on the bus. Clodagh Murphy's third offering nods to the trend with its raunchy title, even if the content turns out to be fairly wholesome.
Murphy has carved out her own niche of romantic comedy. Her first two books dealt with families meddling in a love triangle and love in a political climate.
Romy Fitzgerald names her baby son Luke because Darth Vader is his father, or at least the total stranger that was dressed as Darth Vader at a Halloween party is his father. He didn't remove his mask when they were at it in a cupboard upstairs.
Romy is fairly conventional, definitely not the sort of girl who normally has cupboard sex at parties, and makes an endearing protagonist. Luke is still a toddler but Romy is on a quest to find her dark knight before the time comes when he starts asking questions about his dad.
Kit Masterson, her childhood sweetheart, arrives home from New York and seems to be very into playing happy families. Could he be the Daddy?
She is trying to work out why he is so keen on being a stepdad to Luke when his younger brother, the "utterly delicious" Ethan, turns up. Ethan works for Médecins Sans Frontières. He has spent the past year building houses in Haiti and is "hot with a capital H O T". Could he be the Daddy? We also meet Romy's neighbour, May, a libidinous oldie, who is always on hand to offer advice.
Despite its kinkalicious title, this is not a tale of unbridled lust. We are a long way from Fifty Shades of Grey. It is a gripping story with a pacey plot, plenty of quirky characters and Star Wars references. Who's the Daddy? Well, that's obvious from the halfway mark -- considerably reducing the novel's credibility and effect.