Anyone looking for a conventional chick lit love story will be set adrift in Two Fridays in April, the 11th novel from bestselling Roisin Meaney, who doesn't shrink from exploring grief, illness and isolation.
The story begins with the violent death of a husband and father, Finn Darling, and splits into four perspectives. A year after Finn's death in April, we're taken into the lives of four people he has left behind. These and their step-relations and suitors make up one big unhappy 21st century family and an intriguing net of interconnections, bitchiness and passive rage.
There is Finn's young widow, Daphne Darling, working for an estate agent and struggling to get along with her orphaned stepdaughter, Una Darling, a monosyllabic texting teen.
There is Finn's practical and rather embarrassing mother, Mo Darling, who Daphne is stuck with, but whose own means of coping with grief become interesting as we get to know her.
And Daphne's adulterous mother Isobel, a lonely wife approaching 60, whose wealthy husband brings her yoghurt with goji berries and pumpkin seeds in bed, but whose vacuous existence has made her stray into the thorny world of online dating.
Isobel is the most fascinating of the four but the least important to the main storyline. We'd like more where she came from, please.
Meaney can write full-bodied and compelling characters. Can, but doesn't always: Daphne Darling is a desperately bland piece of work. Less of where she came from, please.
This is commercial women's fiction, but Meaney has written books for children and young adults, and she would surely be able to write fiction that doesn't sell too (literary). She crafts her observations, she has good vocabulary. A beady narrative eye follows the characters in their daily business.
Simple, kitchen sink descriptions of twisting salt onto potatoes don't mean we're deprived of a beautiful sentence: "The rain drops smack like popping corn onto her bonnet", "Pity is useless; pity makes her want to throttle someone", "Grief made an alien of her."
Some perhaps personal quibbles, like all fiction of its kind, Two Fridays in April is set in a time-and-space vacuum, to ensure a universal appeal for those foreign readers (Meaney's books are translated into six languages).
There is reference to a property boom "when house prices started to go mad", but there are no other marks of history, or place names. However, the voices are so distinctly small-town Irish that we wonder, why not just go the full Monty, and give us a context?
The plotting is hasty: an over-reliance on the excruciating cliff-hanger to keep us reading, and a jigsaw-puzzle piecing together of this fragmented family that borders on the incestuous.
But the structural cleverness definitely makes for a worthwhile fast read. Four women across the generations are imprisoned in their individual worries, but events force their worlds to converge, reminding us that sometimes we just have to get along.