Monday 20 November 2017

Review: Love and Marriage by Patricia Scanlan

Transworld Ireland, €14.99

Margaret Carragher

The title of Patricia Scanlan's latest novel pretty much sums up its contents. Set in our chastened, post-Celtic Tiger times, Love and Marriage features all you'd expect from such a sweeping theme.

Thus we encounter love in its myriad forms -- romantic, platonic, maternal, fraternal, conflicted -- and the demands, rewards and frustrations of matrimony in 21st-Century Ireland.

The cradle-to-grave cast of characters includes Connie and Drew, a middle-aged couple enjoying love a second time around despite the trials and tribulations of their assorted ex-partners and offspring: Connie's hapless daughter Debbie and her spoilt mammy's boy of a husband Bryan; PR maven Aimee, her husband Barry (who also happens to be Connie's ex-husband and Debbie's dad. Like its subject matter, the book's characters are nothing if not complicated), and troubled teenage daughter Melissa; disgruntled D4 denizen Juliet Davenport and her autocratic husband Ken; office dragon Judith and her angst-ridden mother Lily; investment consultant/scam artist Jeremy Farrell and his social-climbing spouse Doris, and many more.

Having flogged dodgy shares among his golf-club buddies, retired stockbroker Jeremy absconds with his wife to their Portuguese villa, leaving devastation in his wake.

For Barry Adams, who has borrowed €100,000 to invest in Jeremy's now-worthless shares, the loss puts even more pressure on his already precarious second marriage. Already frazzled beyond measure by the demands of her career, an anorexic daughter and a pregnancy, which she plans to terminate just as soon as she can find the time, Barry's wife Aimee doesn't need any more annoyance.

Nor, for that matter, does Aimee's mutinous mother Juliet, whose plans to leave her heart-surgeon husband have been scuppered by the collapse of the property market and their once gilt-edged share portfolio.

For Bryan, the introduction of a three-day week at work represents the final nail in the coffin of his hedonistic Tiger-cub lifestyle. No longer able to afford his regular booze and coke-fuelled diversions, tied into negative equity on the swish D4 pad he'd insisted on having, and heartily sick of his dreary suburban existence, Bryan seeks refuge in the ever-welcoming arms of his mammy, while fantasising about pastures new Down Under.

Meanwhile, heartbroken by her husband's indifference and panicked by their rapidly mounting debts, Debbie turns for help to her already much put-upon dad, Barry.

Then there's Debbie's once chubby young half-sister Melissa who, rattled by peer pressure, has taken to skipping meals and secretly upchucking what little food her beleaguered parents can get her to eat. Meanwhile, married-to-the-job Judith's prolonged convalescence after a traffic accident forces her to rethink her relationship with her mother following a lifetime of conflict.

With her characters thus established, Scanlan's multi-layered tale rattles along nicely despite sometimes stilted and often repetitive dialogue. While there's no harm (and no little gratification) in taking the odd swipe at the likes of "that friggin' muppet who was taking dig-outs from his cronies", having characters bang on endlessly about the greedy bankers/crooked politicians/incompetent regulators responsible for their woes serves only to impede the narrative and irritate the reader.

That said, with 16 bestsellers already to her credit Scanlan obviously knows what she's about. Her latest tome will doubtless join their ranks.

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