Wednesday 17 January 2018

Review: Homecoming by Cathy Kelly

HarperCollins, €19.80

I wonder how many would-be authors will read Homecoming and just give up? Yes, Cathy Kelly's latest novel is that good. Some writers are good at plotting, others at creating great characters and there are a few who can write well -- Kelly is a master at all three. This is proper women's fiction at its very best. Kelly presents us with a cast of women, who come in all shapes, sizes and, most importantly, ages.

Megan, a 26-year-old actress, who has spent most of her career courting the paparazzi, is now in hiding with her aunt, no-nonsense chiropodist Nora, in her home in Golden Square (a fictional location in Dublin), after a public affair with a well-known and long-married leading man.

Megan is, quite frankly, up herself. She thinks "normal people" like those who live in the square have no problems at all and she's resentful that her sister Pippa gives priority to her small children rather than Megan's dramas. (Pippa, on occasion, gives her young family cereal for dinner -- something all mothers do at some point, but none of us ever admits it.)

To be fair to Megan, she has had a woefully inadequate upbringing, has very little clue of what constitutes reality or normality, and she is genuinely heartbroken.

At the far end of the age scale, 84-year-old returning-emigrant Eleanor, who has not set foot in Ireland since leaving for New York at the age of 11, is also heartbroken by the recent, sudden death of her husband. Eleanor has included her mother's diary/ recipe book in her luggage and excerpts from it appear at the start of each chapter. These passages are not only utterly charming but provide a glimpse into just how dramatically different life in Ireland was not all that long ago.

The life led by Eleanor's mother and her family stands out in stark contrast to the sophisticated lifestyle psychotherapist Eleanor and her late husband enjoyed in New York. Eleanor wonders "had life been more simple then? When it was harder merely to survive, did people get on with it and not tangle themselves in knots over who they were and why life had shaped them a certain way?"

While Eleanor and Megan are recent arrivals in Golden Square, Connie and Rae are long-time residents. Connie, a secondary school teacher pushing 40, has given up hope of ever meeting a man and having a family. Rae, in her late 50s, has a seemingly idyllic life with a husband who adores her, a grown-up son and a job managing the much-loved local coffee shop. But Rae has a troubled past and it is threatening to catch up with her.

I'm not often moved to tears by books, but the flashbacks to Rae's past made me both wet-eyed and angry. However, I also laughed out loud plenty of times too. Kelly is very funny -- her description of perma-singleton Connie's ultra-pink "boudoir" was both comical and rang all too true for me. "She had three sets of twinkly fancy lights over her mirrored dressing table already. Any more and the room would be a fire hazard."

Kelly has written 11 previous books, all of them best-sellers, and with such a large output, any author could be forgiven for getting just a little bit stale or repetitive, but Cathy Kelly has, once again, outdone herself and has no need to beg absolution from anyone.

Homecoming is an absolutely fabulous read, a warm, touching, funny and poignant page-turner which I found impossible to put down.

Sunday Independent

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