Friday, 11 April 2014

" Flight " by Oona Frawley

Thanks to Tramp Press for sending me a review copy of this book .......

Four people. Four journeys. Four lives. From Zimbabwe to Ireland,  America to Vietnam, these journeys each come with their own tales.  Some of isolation, humiliation and degradation, others of hope and prosperity in a different world.  

Sandrine has come to Ireland to seek a better life for herself, and hopefully her family.  She is employed by Elizabeth to look after her elderly parents, Tom and Clare, who can longer manage alone. 
Having returned to Ireland on Tom's retirement, the couple are now based in their seaside home in Dublin.  Elizabeth warns Sandrine that they often get confused and can be a handful.  Sandrine soon realises that her hopes of attending school in Ireland are no longer a viable option and she dedicates her time to the monitoring of Tom and Grace.  On her rare occasions to venture out of the house, she is a first hand witness to the hostile treatment of "non-nationals" in Ireland and how the country, as a whole, sees the immigrant workers as some kind of threat to their nation.  Deportations are a regular thing and Sandrine fears she will be discovered as working full-time, despite her student visa status.  On top of this, there is the added problem of her pregnancy.  She has not told anyone, and finds it hard to plan her future with so much uncertainty in the present.

Elizabeth visits her parents almost everyday and watches as they deteriorate at an alarming rate.  When her father has to be placed in a care facility, her mother is distraught. Sandrine does her best to create a normal atmosphere in the house but it soon becomes apparent that Grace is fading.  Elizabeth can only watch, helpless as her parents become shadows of their former selves.  She remembers how much she wanted to leave their home in Vietnam, to study in America, away from the restrictions of Asian life and how even now, in her late 30s, she can still remember the monsoons, the heat and the smell of spices, which were the ingredients of her childhood abroad.

This story is based during the economic boom years of the Celtic Tiger in Ireland.  There are jobs for everyone,  houses being built on land in every town and a flood of immigrants to fill positions that the general population thought beneath them.  The streets are crowded, the shops are bustling and the roads jammed packed with gleaming new cars.  One can see why Ireland was an ideal destination for the thousands of people from troubled countries,  who needed to escape to survive.  
Oona Frawley has cleverly linked the two sides of the story without being either dismissive or preachy. The narrative is jam-packed with melodic prose and I found something beautiful on almost every page.  When trying to pick a short excerpt to use for this review, I really struggled.  There were simply too many.  Descriptive passages are used with such powerful intensity throughout the novel, gliding from chapter to chapter.  There is no need for inverted commas, for example.  The dialogue is blended in with the sentences, of which I didn't even notice for a while, so seamlessly was it done.

It is a while since I was moved to tears while reading a book, but the chapters describing the downward spiral of Tom and Clare were emotionally draining for me.  I could almost have been in the room at times.  Watching a parent, who was always the one in charge, now become the one requiring help,  is a painful storyline.  However, the author has done this with care, and carries it off very well.  Although I thought I would tire of hearing about Tom's career and his obsession with peppers and spices, the narrative moved on and my senses took over.  Scent and sound, imagining the rains and intense heat, this became part of my world as I turned page after page of this poetic book.  
I would recommend this novel for lovers of Colum McCann, Colm Tobin and Anne Enright as it is full of their warmth, passion and clever use of language.

Flight is published by Tramp Press and is available in paperback

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