Monday, June 25, 2012

This is How it Ends/ Tyringham Park/ Secrets of the Tides

I was delighted recently to read three popular fiction debuts which each in their own way deal with families, secrets and tragedies and are united by the recurring theme of water. This is How It Ends by Kathleen McMahon is the story of Bruno and Addie who are distant cousins. Irish American Bruno cut adrift from work decides to look up his Irish roots while Dubliner Addie is also out of work and looking after her aging father. The family home at Sandymount looking out to the sea and the sea itself are important recurring symbols for the author and our two protagonists meet appropriately enough at Sandymount strand. Both characters are feeling lonely and vulnerable and their connection is instant. Kathleen McMahon writes beautifully about the simple but all embracing process of falling in love. Through the characters of Bruno and Addie and those around them we learn about the family secrets and the fragility of life for as the title suggests this book is all about endings. Warning, you may need tissues. There was a lot of fanfare upon the acquisition and the release of this book as Kathleen is the granddaughter of acclaimed Irish writer Mary Lavin. Perhaps this novel is not as literary as many had expected. It is a novel of quiet power with some beautiful writing, though I felt it didn't quite grab my soul. Though I’m sure the author has a great future in front of her and her best may be yet to come.

Tyringham Park by Rosemary McLoughlin is another debut from an Australian lady who has made Ireland her home. Rosemary McLoughlin has already established herself as an artist but writing has always been a passion and now in her seventies she has realised her dream of publishing a novel. Poolbeg have once again branched out and published this fantastic, historical saga but the timing of this release is impeccable. With the popularity of Downtown Abbey this book will have broad appeal; it has echoes of Daphne du Maurier, Kate Morton and Rachel Hore. Charlotte Blackshaw is the novel's flawed heroine; a neglected child, a tortured artist, a troubled soul. the story opens with the mysterious disappearance of baby Victoria Blackshaw who is feared drowned and follows Charlotte through her cold relationship with her parents, the abuse she receives from her nanny and the comfort she gains from the friendly housekeeper as she grows up to become an artist, a wife and a mother. Through the grand sweep of world history through two wars and the turmoil of Irish independence from Dublin to London to Australia this story is painted across a broad canvas. Overall the novel is an enjoyable and page turning read however I felt that the plot was a little flabby in places and some historical anomalies niggled but didn't detract from what is a really entertaining debut.

Secrets of the Tides by Hannah Rihcell is the debut novel of an English author now living in Australia. The book title is a play on words as it deals with the multi-generational tale of the Tide family but also features the power and danger of water as a force of nature both giving and taking life. The opening prologue of the book featuring a young girl travelling by train to London tormented by guilt and regret and finally throwing herself from a bridge into the murky Thames is fantastically powerful and instantly intrigues the reader. With a wonderful narrative drive the story is recounted by different female voices in the Tide family each slowly revealing a little more of the puzzle. Dora who is returning to the family home, the beautiful old house by the sea in Dorset is at the heart of the novel. She is a wonderfully realised character, easy to empathise with. Even the minor players are fully fleshed out and add to the richness of the drama. This is a dramatic and very well written debut which will appeal to fans of Mary Wesley, Daphne du Maurier and Kate Morton. I must admit it was my favourite of the three novels featured here. The author will I'm sure be given the Richard & Judy seal of approval, if not with this novel then surely with the next as she certainly knows how to write a good character driven story.

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