Debut Roundup. January 2018

Posted by Sue Leonard on Sunday 21st January 2018
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Andrew Meehan. One Star Awake. New Island: €13.95

Eva finds herself in a Paris restaurant, with no memory of her past. She’s a kitchen hand, and there are many people protecting her, but life is pretty difficult when you don’t even know what kind of food you like, and when you have to ask questions like, is it possible to have sex with someone you don’t know, and if you don’t feel like it at all, is it ok to say so.

Clearly damaged, and uneasy in any social situation, Eva spends most of her time with Daniel, and American who seems to have her interests at heart, and to care what happens to her. Compiling a list of the advantages of not knowing who you are, he includes, no need to to remember passwords and pin numbers.

“Because you don’t exist,” he concludes. “You totally exist, but not in the eyes of the state.”

Can Eva trust him? Does he, perhaps, know more about her than he lets on? When Eva sees a man she thinks she knows, she pursues him, but though she wants answers, she’s frightened of them too. She’d like to filter them, because she’s pretty sure that it was a trauma causing her retrograde amnesia in the first place. How can she be sure what she is remembering, and what discovering anew?

This is a mesmerising novel; inventive, heart-wrenching, and beautifully realised. I loved following Eva around Paris – as she struggles to survive the chaos she herself creates. It’s the most interesting debut I’ve read in 2017.

The King of Lavender Square. Susan Ryan. Poolbeg.

A lone 20-year-old, Saskia seems lost. Her job serving coffee was only meant to be temporary – but a gig as a voice-over artist goes bizarrely wrong. As she waits, rather impatiently, for her life to begin, she watches her neighbours in the Victorian Dublin Square. A mixture of cultures and classes, they never seem to talk to one another, yet Saskia suspects that, in their way, each is as lonely as she is.

When young Patrick Kimba’s mother goes missing – to be found, ill, in hospital, the neighbours are thrown together in an effort to help him. They’re an unusual mix- from the once high-flying advertising whizz kid, to the embittered teacher; from the entitled yummy mummy, to the recluse, but most of them become fond of the boy, and want to help in his dream of becoming a footballer.

In getting involved, the neighbours face difficulties; it doesn’t work quite as they planned, but in the end, their lives change in all manner of wondrous ways. I loved this life-affirming tale. It’s beautifully written; the author has the humanity of Maeve Binchy, but there’s a touch of Cecelia Ahern like magic in the mix too. For all that, it sends an important message for our social media world. Is it time we relinquished our phones in favour of good conversations? Then, perhaps, we will rediscover the importance of good neighbours.

Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling. Emer McLysaght & Sarah Breen. Gill Books.

Towards the end of the boom, friends Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen invented a character called Aisling. Opening a page on Facebook, they invited friends to share jokes about a girl commuting from the country, who, wearing runners to work, carries her heels in a Brown Thomas bag. Before they knew it, word spread, and the page gained almost 50,000 followers, and interest from a publisher to turn the character into the protagonist of a novel.

This could have misfired, but McLysaght and Breen have proved themselves well able for the task. They’ve kept Aisling’s basic characteristics; she’s a typical small-town girl, living in a notions world. She commutes from home, socialising there at weekends, but spends two nights a week in Dublin, with her long-term boyfriend, John, using the pill and condoms, to be doubly sure to avoid pregnancy, although she has never, ever, had a scare.

The novel opens at a wedding. Aisling rather wishes it was her own, and wonders when John will propose. She organises a holiday to Tenerife, convinced he will take the opportunity to pop the question there, and when he doesn’t, she dumps him, and decides it’s time to change her life. Sharing a flat in Stoney-batter with a more worldly colleague from work, she starts living the kind of town life she’s long been suspicious of.

This debut is hilarious, but also sweet and touching. There are echoes of Bridget Jones, and Becky Bloomfield of Shopaholic fame, but this novel goes deep, too. Yes, we laugh in recognition, as Aisling’s actions remind us of someone, and of ourselves, but the novel also explores the importance of friendship and family. By the close, Aisling has matured and learned that life means more than a ring on the finger, and a house with a utility room. It’s irresistible!

December Girl. Nicola Cassidy. Bombshell Books. 

This debut opens in London in 1896, when Molly comes out of a shop to discover that her baby, Oliver, has been snatched from his pram. Then it flashes back fourteen months, to show the eviction of Molly’s family from their farm in County Meath.

This happened at Christmas, and Molly believes, was unjustified. When Flann Montgomery, the land agent responsible, moves his family into the house, Molly swears vengeance. But why does she move away from her family to London, and what brings her back to Ireland once her baby has been snatched?

Inspired by a real-life eviction, this historical novel has a mystery element to it. And though the reader, eventually learns who snatched baby Oliver, and why, the truth is hidden from all the principals in the drama. Will mother and son ever be reunited?

Some of the more melodramatic events in this novel failed to convince me, but I was impressed with Cassidy’s writing style – and with her narrative skill.

 

Crying into The Saucepan. Nikki Hayes. Mercier. 

To the public, DJ Nikki Hayes seemed to have it all. Presenting the lunchtime show on RTE Radio Two gave her a glitzy lifestyle. And while she worked hard and partied harder, it seemed that she had life sussed. But there is another side to Nikki.

Born Eimear O’Keefe in Bray, County Wicklow, she struggled through her childhood and teens. Hating herself, she had trouble maintaining friendships, and at 15 was diagnosed with anorexia. And even though she achieved her dream early, working as a teen on a pirate radio station, and rising fast through East Coast Radio, and Spin FM before securing that RTE job, she was lurching from crisis to crisis.

Through the years, experiencing depression and panic, Nikki received many other diagnoses, and treatments; but all the time, her symptoms arose from Border-line Personality Disorder, a condition associated with severe functional impairment, and high rates of suicide.

The memoir shows exactly what it’s like to suffer from this confusing illness. Her profession was in many ways ideal for Nikki, because she could act a part; and be someone else; but even as she was hitting career highs, being DJ and MC for stars like George Michael and Anastasia, she was letting down her friends, with her thoughtless, and sometimes, bizarre behaviour.

This is a difficult story, told with searing honesty, and will no doubt succeed in its aim of helping others with the condition, or affected by it.

 

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