Monday 19 March 2018

When it's a choice between baby and cancer treatment . . .

Aptly timed novel The Last Goodbye goes to heart of the abortion question

Skilled: Caroline Finnerty isn't afraid to take on finger-pointers and the tut-tutters
Skilled: Caroline Finnerty isn't afraid to take on finger-pointers and the tut-tutters

Clodagh Finn

Caroline Finnerty's second novel could not have been more prescient: The Last Goodbye, a book that goes right to the heart of the so-called abortion question, hit the shelves just as the Dail debated the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

This is a story that exposes every crack in the emotional minefield that confronts a woman and her family when told she requires treatment that may put the life of her unborn baby at risk.

But Finnerty does not force those big questions on the reader straight away. Instead, she draws us in gradually and, as she did in her debut novel In a Moment, hints at a terrible tragedy that is not revealed until more than halfway through the 340 well-crafted pages.

What we know from the beginning, though, is that something is eating our heroine Kate Flynn. She left Ireland in a hurry the day after her Leaving Cert and nothing will tempt her back.

More than a decade has passed. She is happy in London where she runs a successful photography gallery. But now Kate is expecting her first child and her partner Ben, understandably, is anxious to meet her family in the west of Ireland.

He is doing everything he can to persuade Kate to make a visit home. But the lady is not for turning. As the story unfolds, Finnerty paints a nuanced and complex picture of a woman who was rocked to her very core when her mother was diagnosed with cancer while carrying her fourth child, refused treatment because of the pregnancy, and died as a result, leaving her young family – including Kate – motherless.

Kate has never forgiven her dead mother for that and has shut out the terrible events that unfolded at the time, keeping a tight lid on her pain, grief and guilt ever since. That can't go on for ever, though, and she finally has to confront her past.

The Last Goodbye could be a mawkish, moralistic read but in Finnerty's hands it is a deeply moving study of one family who has had to cope with more than its fair share of adversity.

Kate is single-minded and, at times, infuriatingly stubborn but, thankfully, we are treated to an interweaving narrative that fleshes out the thoughts of Kate's parents, Eva and Noel. Those sections of the book are wonderfully drawn and intensely moving.

Finnerty has also managed to bring contemporary London to life with an entertaining and vivid portrayal of Kate's art-gallery workplace and her colleague Nat.

When Nat starts to have an affair with a married man, both Kate and her partner Ben disapprove but Finnerty is again anxious to show the complexities of these situations.

Here is an author who is not afraid to take on the finger-pointers and the tut-tutters and show them in clear, considered prose that you should never judge a person until you have walked in their shoes.

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