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One big step for wives

The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story by Lily Koppel Headline (2014) €21.50 **

I DON'T know that there have been many – if any – untrue stories about the wives of the men who manned America's space teams.

There was, no doubt, any number of magazine layouts that depicted the wives the way NASA wanted them to be shown, so perhaps that's the reason behind putting "A True Story" in the title.

Whether it's true or not is not an issue here – it's whether or not this chronicle is really doing its subject justice.

The thing is, the story is big: a group of everyday women is thrown into the spotlight, just at the cusp of huge change in American society.

Their husbands have been chosen to enter the space race in order to beat those damned commie Russians to the moon and beyond.

The wives had to hold down the fort and present a calm, cool exterior when their men were as likely to die as not in the attempt to conquer space.

Throughout, the tone reels between a historical fiction account to a basic outlay of fact after fact.

There's a heedless repetition of too many of the facts and too many of the feelings to believe that this was well-edited.

It is, ultimately, neither here nor there, neither a potboiling, Mad Men approach (and the shadow of that programme hovers all over this), nor a well-researched, properly footnoted piece of reportage.

It has that slightly rackety air of being an unauthorised biography, the sort that is a collection of anecdotes from a very wide variety of sources.

The lives of the Astrowives are certainly worthy of representation; this is set to become a TV series, and may be a more successful platform for the narrative.

Embracing Solitude by Bernadette Flanagan Cascade Books (2014) €15 (RRP) ****

THIS, on the other hand, couldn't be more scholarly. Flanagan is the director of research at All Hallows College. She is taking a look at monasticism as practised by five women – again, women who many of us have never heard of. They are all from different backgrounds and time periods encompassing Africa, Irish/Celtic Christianity, medieval Flanders, Renaissance Italy and post- colonial Ireland, in that order.

Here, unsurprisingly, given her day job, the research is documented, footnoted and exhaustive.

It's not exhausting. It's a deep read, however, and one that's going to stretch your brain. It takes a while to get moving, in that academic way of having to foreword and introduce before the writer gets into full swing.

But the thesis is compelling: with more women living singly than ever before, how is this enriching their lives? If the stigma of living without being a wife or mother can be transcended, what riches are there for women to reap?

How do we all cope with the challenges presented by social media, which have created an almost boundary-less existence?

If there's one thing that solitude needs to thrive, it's boundaries.

I gained much insight from this work and was delighted by the spiritual (as opposed to religious) approach she took to the subject.

If you have ever wondered how to find the space and peace and to connect with the still, small voice within, this will give you much food for thought and exceptional inspiration.

The Rules of Inheritance by Claire Bidwell Smith Headline (2014) €18.75 ****

A JOURNEY through a young woman's grief and a story of human nature's drive to make something moving out of something awful.

The perspective here – that of a young woman who loses both of her parents in quick enough succession – is what makes this rendering of mourning unique, and also rather an object lesson.

Taking anything for granted is never good, and the most emotional parts of the book are those that involve her spending time with her previously estranged, dying father. The "bloggy", tone may not be to everyone's liking.

Glitter & Glue by Kelly Corrigan Coronet (2014) €20 ***

THIS memoir about mother-and-daughterhood comes to its expected conclusion: that daughters need their mothers, and mothers have to be tough – the glue to the father's glitter, as is meant by the title.

Corrigan connects a personal cancer diagnosis to a time in her 20s when she was nanny to children who'd lost their mother to cancer, to her attempts to reconcile her frustrations and disappointments with her own mother.

Since Corrigan is a mother herself, this is all meant to resonate down the years. It does, to some degree, but feels like this was either a coming-of-age travel story or an I-appreciate-my-mum-now tale, and not both.

When Fraser Met Billy by Louise Booth Hodder & Stoughton (2014) €21.50 ***

I LOVE a good animal memoir, and this one is as moving and heart-wrenching as they can be. Fraser was diagnosed as autistic and suffering from a muscle condition called hypotonia at 18 months.

The family was isolated in the Scottish Highlands down to dad's job, and mum Louise was at the end of her tether. Then rescue cat Billy came on the scene.

The stories of the ways in which Billy helped Fraser grow and learn are miraculous.

The telling of it is straightforward enough and probably considerably shorter than the layout of the book with its massive font – would convey.


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