Thursday 19 April 2018

Sex, violence and a royal romance on your holiday

Light and fluffy reading make for a perfect escape

Amy Huberman
Amy Huberman
Hester Browne deals with a royal romance
Marita Conlon-McKenna portrays a rural idyll
Muriel Bolger sets her tale around a cruise
Deirdre Conroy

Deirdre Conroy

With the best intentions of catching up on some serious prose, packing your slim volume of Chekhov short stories just doesn't work on a girlfriend/beach holiday. The concentration span is short in the sun, then there's the mosquito swatting, the sandy hair and salty sea to deal with. If you're looking for something easy, here is a selection of sunshine stories to choose from, they are long enough to last a few days, light enough to leave behind and pass on to the next sun-seeker.

First up is Amy Huberman's I Wished for You, the story of Grace, an almost-30-year-old clothes-aholic dissatisfied with her job as a personal shopper and unsure of her standing in the seven-year romance with Robbie. Family pressure to see her marry has her addled. Curiously, Grace has a degree in geography from Trinity and two post-grads, but it doesn't show in her relentless pursuit of shoes, bags and vintage frocks.

Huberman weaves an interesting thread of classic movie scenes through the narrative, the golden era of Hollywood is Grace's passion, she lives in the cinematic dream of Tinseltown. In a sweet twist, it is Robbie who is the romantic, caring and thoughtful character, and it is Grace's need for self-affirmation that drives them apart. The magical arrival of Verity, the vintage Hollywood dresser, provides a sprinkling of wisdom to knock Grace off her perch. Huberman's style has a light touch, but she handles well the realities of big themes like marital breakdown, defeated ambition. The book is crammed with snapshots of empathy amid the noise of rattling voices in Grace's head.

If you're a young woman at a crossroads, and there will be many more for you to cross along the way and if you've a penchant for Rita Hayworth, Bette Davis and Greta Garbo, this is for you.

Muriel Bolger uses a neat device in The Captain's Table to relate her tale of Jenny, the disenchanted wife of a Celtic Tiger financial spin-merchant. Bolger plumbs the depths of domestic violence to give grit to her heroine. We learn that Jenny is physically abused by her bully husband and has also lost a baby, one that she didn't want to have with him. The cruise and the special table for solo travellers is a balm for Jenny's angst and provides a handy solution to introducing her fellow passengers and themes of widowhood, infidelity, alcoholism, the wealthy slapper, cultural idiosyncrasies and romantic intrigue.

Which of the eligible suitors will Jenny fall for? Who will pair off with whom by the time the cruise ends? The voyage takes place around Greece, Israel and Cyprus. Bolger was inspired to write her tale from her own cruise experience. It is a book that may inspire anyone recently separated or finding themselves alone, and if you can afford it, a little cruise could certainly prove to be just the thing to invigorate you. This book will amply fill your holiday time with multiple sub-narratives.

From the opening pages of The Rose Garden by Marita Conlon-McKenna, you are drawn into a world that was lusciously depicted by the artist Mildred Anne Butler through her watercolours of her home, Kilmurry. The story is set in the pastoral idyll of a Georgian house in Kilkenny, where a recently widowed Molly Hennessy has the added grief of maintaining Mossbawn and its grounds. She has a wistful impulse to nurture and begins to slowly restore the neglected rose garden.

Molly's two daughters are in college in Dublin and the house is empty and silent. Her niece, Kim, provides a neat next-generation parallel story of lost and found love. Molly's story intersects with that of another woman in the village, Gina, whose husband is out of work. From early on there is a sense that the three women must embrace change or re-invent themselves. Molly begins to realise she can't hold on to Mossbawn but wants to sell it to a family, she entertains various buyers, but this is Ireland, where good land is viewed as development potential and charming country houses soak up money.

Meanwhile Molly invites niece Kim to stay while getting over a break-up and considering her next career move, having been made redundant from a bank. The house in various ways becomes a solution to all their problems, opportunity and determination, friendship and hope overcome financial setbacks. It helps that both Molly and Gina have their mortgages paid off, but it is their own hard work and resilience that kickstarts their new enterprises.

The arrival of Luke, the teacher with a stud farm, and Rob, the kindly industrialist, provides a romantic backdrop for Molly and Kim's development. A small rural community, where neighbours support each other and overcome some greedy 'developer' shenanigans reveals a tension between town and country society, and is a charming story by Conlon-McKenna

If it's escapism from Ireland that you want then a swooning alternative is penned by Hester Browne in The Runaway Princess. With a dedication to Queen Elizabeth II, this story can only have a right royal resonance.

Indeed, the rose garden metaphor is liberally em-ployed to prettify and sanctify 'true love'. The narrator is a comely Yorkshire lass, Amy, a garden designer living with her Sloaney designer/actress/ friend Jo, in Chelsea.

Amy's tender tending of flowers, soil, trees, her grubby finger nails and her corkscrew hair is the antithesis to glossy maned Euro-princesses and attracts the attention of handsome, debonair Prince Leo of Nirona. Their first date is in a thinly disguised Annabel's and then a private supper in the orangery of his rose garden, you know the kind.

The course of courtly love doesn't run smooth and the conscientious Amy has to wrestle with many an obstacle along the way, not least his super-model mother, his ambitious lawyer sister and the shadow of her own errant sister, the one who brought shame on her parents and left them in debt.

You will want to find out what happens in the end and when you do, there is an added bonus of a Book Club Guide.

It could only happen in Knightsbridge.


I wished for you

Amy Huberman

Penguin, £6.99

The Captain's Table

Muriel Bolger

Hachette Books,


The Rose Garden

Marita Conlon-McKenna

Transworld, £12.99

The Runaway Princess

Hester Browne

Quercus £7.99


Irish Independent

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