Tuesday 20 August 2019

Three debuts you will want to dive into

* The Ballroom Cafe, Ann O'Loughlin, Black & White Publishing, €10.99 Approx
* Eggshells, Caitriona Lally, Liberties Press, €12.99
* In a Dark Dark Wood, Ruth Ware, Simon & Schuster, €17.99

Anna Coogan

It is summertime, and the reading from three debut authors is highly engaging, and yet exceedingly different.

Ann O'Loughlin is a High Court reporter with the Irish Examiner, and has drawn on her experience of reporting on the illegal adoption of children from Irish orphanages by families in America for her first novel, The Ballroom Cafe.

Ann has also written about her delight in being able to take her time in choosing her words- compared to the fast-paced atmosphere of a newsroom -and this is evident in her creation of well-rounded characters infused with warmth and intelligence.

This is the first work of fiction to be based on the illegal giving away of Irish babies, and at heart this story is less of an accusation and more of an understanding.

Sisters Ella and Roberta O'Callaghan are estranged, and they communicate by passing notes in the crumbling mansion they live in. When the bank threatens to take possession of the house, Ella opens a cafe in the ballroom to raise money.

When an American called Debbie Kading arrives in town searching for her birth mother, she gets a job at the cafe. Secrets begin to spill, and lives to unravel.

Originally from the west of Ireland, O'Loughlin's feel for nature and weather add to this book's all-embracing atmosphere.

Caitriona Lally studied English literature at Trinity and was one of the finalists in the Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair 2014. At a time she was unemployed, she traipsed the streets of Dublin to pass the time, and now her main character does exactly the same in Lally's highly original debut novel, Eggshells.

Vivian Lawlor was told she was a changeling as a child, and goes for walks to try and find her way back to the land of fairies, where she thinks she belongs. Vivian sees things differently, for example, she does not like action verbs, as words involving action tend to expect too much of a person. She experiences things from a different angle, and wishes a shopkeeper "Happy Christmas" in April, as she does not know if she'll get back into the shop before December.

Vivian doesn't have any friends, and places an advertisement on a tree seeking a friend called Penelope. Vivian's sister wishes she showered more. She wishes Vivian wouldn't mutter such nonsense. Meanwhile, Vivian lives in a house she inherited and in close proximity to Dublin city centre.

Yes, you've probably seen Vivian out and about. I know I certainly have.

Lally has a unique voice as a writer, and had me on line six of her novel when she described a character as "someone who kept chairs the way some people keep cats."

She is impressively self-assured, skilled and special in how she brings Vivian in from the fringes and into our company.

Ruth Ware was born in Sussex and has taught English in Paris and worked in publishing. In A Dark Dark Wood is her debut thriller.

Nora hasn't seen her former best friend Clare for 10 years, and since leaving school. Should she be surprised when she is invited to Clare's hen weekend?

Should she be startled when she realises that there is an ulterior motive for inviting her to a house deep in a forest?

Suspence doesn't usually rock my boat. But Ware's writing is immediate and conversational, and she throws a net out and captures her reader. For starters, what's more scary than a bunch of bitchy women?

A murder mystery worthy of the beach.

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