Friday 23 March 2018

Tough choices of finding love in a sultry climate

If You Were Me Sheila O'Flanagan Headline Review; tpbk, £13.98, 398 pages Available with free P&P on or by calling 091 709 350

Sheila O'Flanagan
Sheila O'Flanagan

Lorraine Coutney

With sales of more than four million books so far, Sheila O'Flanagan is one of our most successful female authors. Unusually for a popular fiction writer, she used to work in finance. Before she switched careers she was the head of the trading floor in a major bank here.

She quit her life as a bond trader back in 2000 to write novels about intelligent, modern women juggling careers and relationships. Yes, her books are mostly about love, but she proclaimed she isn't a romantic herself in an Irish Independent interview about her recent marriage.

O'Flanagan's latest offering features Carlotta, a bright young Dublin thing. As the book opens, Carlotta, aka the Velvet Assassin because she's ruthlessly efficient in her job as a business consultant, is very happily engaged.

Her elaborate wedding plans are coming together perfectly and she's totally and utterly certain about her future. Carlotta's fiancé, Chris, doesn't exactly make her heart race each time she sees him, but she's happy to have an ever-after of lukewarm love and stability with the eminent ophthalmologist from Rathgar.

Then, on a work trip to Seville, Carlotta bumps into Luke Evans, her childhood sweetheart.

Luke left her heartbroken and she's done her very best to forget all about him. When they meet now, he isn't that cute teenage boy any longer, but a fully grown man with the "chiselled" good looks required of all chick-lit heroes.

And he has an explanation for everything that went wrong between them as he leads her through Seville's winding alleys. Suddenly Carlotta isn't sure of anything anymore and the eeny-meeny-miney-mo between one dashing man and another begins.

Seville is here as a character too: all Moorish architecture, fierce flamenco and tapas bars on orange tree-shaded terraces.

There are more serious elements too, like the sense of women struggling harder than ever. Carlotta finds gender differences in her workplaces. Men "like meetings because it makes them feel important". Women "like a relaxed environment where anything that needs to be discussed is discussed".

Biological clocks also tick raucously. "It's so unfair that the prime time in a woman's working life is also her prime time for getting pregnant," Carlotta tells us.

These aren't new themes, but O'Flanagan is insightful, witty and full of fun, with buckets of empathy for her characters and for her readers.

Yet, as always with O'Flanagan, the setbacks are simply part of an eventually benevolent cycle of life that will end well or, at the worst, in a deliciously bittersweet way. The universe of her novels is always consolingly deterministic and we can feel characters' destinies being shaped as we read.

Still, this is touching, tense and clever writing that will sell in its droves.

Drink it deep like a refreshing glass of sangria and book the next flight to Seville to find your own summer of love.

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