“A human anachronism, sitting there fossilising in the window while the rest of the world carried on without him.”
Kathleen MacMahon’s debut novel hit the headlines for receiving a £600,000 advance from Sphere, unheard of in today’s difficult publishing economy. A huge stake on a novel about an American man who escapes the 2008 election by travelling to Ireland to seek out his family roots. His roots aren’t so keen to be dug up though, with difficulties of their own including broken wrists, recent miscarriages and a rescue dog named Lola.
I can’t fault this novel, and yet I’m struggling to be hugely enthusiastic about it either.
Addie, Hugh, Della and Brian are fun characters, each carefully drawn and with plenty of difficult back-story; their meetings and interactions sufficiently awkward and serendipitous at once to be credible, each not seeking out what lands with them. Addie, in particular, struck a chord; a lonely woman of 38, professionally successful but with a string of terrible men in her wake, seeking companionship from a rescue dog and salvation in the strong arms of the sea. Her sister Della seems to have it all – the happy family life, the outgoing character, the interesting wardrobe choices; and yet Della is obviously melancholy herself.
The novel is very set in its time; the 2008 US federal election is a constant theme and I fear the novel will date because of this. Nevertheless, Brian’s American-ness is strong and well-conveyed; the conflict between his desire to be more than American, more than Obama v McCain, Gore v Bush, and his Irish cousins’ reluctance to let him claim any Irishness is unexpected and simmers for quite some time.
Part of the beauty of this novel is that it doesn’t really have a plot; it has some people and some circumstances and the author sits back and stirs the pot every now and again but mostly just lets the characters interact.