Wednesday 22 November 2017

Tale of family ties that keeps you guessing until the end

Clodagh Finn reviews the latest page-turner from Sheila O'Flanagan

Finance to fiction: Sheila O'Flanagan
Finance to fiction: Sheila O'Flanagan

Clodagh Finn

It seems like no time at all since Sheila O'Flanagan's last book Better Together was just out, but now the prolific writer is poised to introduce Things We Never Say, her 15th novel in a long line of bestsellers.

Then again, O'Flanagan just writes these days. Back in the late 1990s, she worked as a bond dealer by day and wrote international bestsellers about love, marriage and the family by night.

Even so, that kind of output is impressive – and it's not as if her books are slim volumes. This one runs to way over 400 pages and its dizzying series of twists and turns will keep you reading until the very end.

Don't, however, be misled by the title. This tale of family intrigue might be called Things We Never Say but, Lord between us and all scorn, can these people tell their siblings and in-laws what they really think.

Fred Fitzpatrick is a cranky old man with a large fortune and three grown-up, inheritance-obsessed children. They aren't very nice to each other and when the offspring are nice to their father, it's only because they are hoping to inherit his valuable pile on Howth Head.

These are children of the boom who know the price of everything and the value of nothing, it seems. In their own minds, they have already killed the poor chap off and are googling the property to see how much it will make on the market. Not at all prepossessing and, to be honest, it is a little wearying to read their constant stream of venal concerns.

Thankfully, though, Things We Never Say has an extensive sweep that takes us both back in time – to the Magdalene Laundry era – and off to San Francisco in the present to meet charming Abbey Anderson.

Her early life was spent trekking from country to country with her adventurous mother but she has now settled down to carve out a career as a nail technician/artist.

That is until an Irish investigator turns up and tells her she must travel to Ireland to find out about a family she never knew existed. And the greedy Fitzpatrick offspring certainly never knew about her.

Delicious chaos ensues as Sheila O'Flanagan does what she does best: set the cat among the smug pigeons.

The tortuous labyrinth of family dynamics is explored with cringe-making honesty. In fact, the exchanges between husband and wife, husband and ex-wife, and brother and sister are sometimes so withering that you long for a little bit of old-fashioned hypocrisy.

That won't stop you turning the pages with relish, though. In the hands of this gifted storyteller, the strands of a complex genealogy are woven seamlessly to make a compelling whole.

And expect the unexpected until the very last page.

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