Thursday 18 January 2018

Review: Popular Fiction: Come This Way Home by Liz Lyons

Transworld, £7.99

Come This Way Home is the second novel from Liz Lyons, a graduate of History and English at Trinity who spent 10 years working as a bookshop manager before deciding to swap stocking the shelves for filling them.

Her debut, Barefoot Over Stones, was warmly received and seems to have earned Lyons a coveted place in the sorority of Irish chick-lit authors.

In March she was one of a number of authors who gathered in Eason's for a celebration of Irish women fiction writers, headed by Patricia Scanlon, with established figures such as Cecelia Ahern, Sheila O'Flanagan, Claudia Carroll and Marita Conlon-McKenna part of the heavy-hitting line-up.

So, has Lyons managed to match the success of her first novel?

The answer has to be an emphatic yes. What helped Barefoot Over Stones stand out on the shelf was the quality of Lyons's prose, which is infused with a lyricism often lacking in some of the less accomplished works that fall into the chick-lit basket. And Come This Way Home is just as well written with a plot that eschews the mundane in favour of a nuanced and complex narrative that demands the reader's full attention.

Stick with the difficult first few chapters, when the novel's large number of characters are first introduced, and you will be richly rewarded. A trio of sisters, separated by the very different paths they have chosen but bound by a closeness that seems to find a physical manifestation in their beautiful family home, Tobar Lodge, stand at the novel's core.

The lodge, left to middle-sister Gina when their beloved dad passed away, has a number of holiday cottages on the grounds that the single mum rents out during the summer. Eldest sister Lottie, an unlucky-in-love art gallery owner in Dublin, and Rachel, the baby of the family who is married to a very successful architect with whom she has two children, return to the lodge for a sisterly catch-up during the summer. But the baggage they bring with them turns out to be more than the few suitcases in the back of the car.

Meanwhile, Gina has rented two of the cottages out for the same period, a handy device that allows Lyons to introduce more characters, with more baggage, to the narrative.

Other authors may have been content to limit themselves to the three siblings, but Lyons stretches the plot to include a web of interlocking narratives. The dizzying array of characters is at times distracting, but Lyons's desire to cram as much in as possible to the 362-pages is both admirable and largely successful.

Particularly well drawn is Gina's teenage daughter, for whom the summer is all about first love, unearthing the secrets of her fatherless childhood and getting ready to embark on her first year in college.

If you are looking for a novel that asks so little of you, that you can slip it into your beach bag alongside the sun-cream and oversized hat, perhaps Come This Way Home is not the best option. But if you want a well-written and heart-warming read that requires a little commitment, then it will fit the bill.

Rachel Dugan

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