Tuesday 21 November 2017

Review: Popular Fiction: Winter Flowers by Carol Coffey

Poolbeg, €15.99

Carol Coffey's third novel is about a dysfunctional family and emphasises the need for a safe and loving environment in childhood and the heartbreaking consequence of neglect on the next generation. But the Wicklow author's story also offers the possibility of breaking the self-perpetuating cycle.

Iris lives alone as a poor seamstress in her 30s. She tries to take care of her wayward younger sister, Hazel.

A single mum, Hazel neglects her two young sons in favour of Pete, the latest in a string of abusive boyfriends. At first, it seems that Iris is the sensible one, but the two women are damaged.

Their father abandoned them to their alcoholic mother, ruining their young lives and leading to feelings of worthlessness and difficulties in their adult relationships.

The boys feel safe with Iris, but when eight-year-old Luke discovers that she too abandoned her baby son -- an act which haunts her and defines her life -- he loses trust in her and decides to take his five-year-old brother, Jack, to find their real father.

There follows a terrifying chase through the darker side of inner city Dublin among drop-outs and drug dealers, which could be straight out of a Martina Cole novel.

It's a wake-up call for Hazel, who dumps Pete. But just as she seems to be getting her life into order, Pete comes back and Luke is exposed to a horrifying ordeal which threatens to break up the entire family.

And at the same time, Iris finds out she has cancer.

The situation seems hopeless. With Iris ill, the authorities place the boys in foster care. But there is redemption for Iris, as her ex-husband and son come back into her life and for Hazel, who with the help of counsellors gets another chance and finds a better path for her family.

Coffey knows her subject well, having worked with children in difficulty for more than 20 years. Her book is at times harrowing and sad, but it's also a life-affirming and gripping read.

Ann Dunne

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