Monday, 5 October 2015

Book Review: 'Dear Cathy, Love Mary' by Catherine Conlon & Mary Phelan.

I received a copy of this title, from the publishers, in return for an honest review...

Who can remember writing letters, on real paper, using a pen?  And then popping said letter into an envelope (preferably matching the writing paper) and heading to the post office to buy a stamp?  Usually the letters involved lots of angst-ridden prose and juicy gossip.  Often being sent to a friend or relative who had emigrated or just headed off for some summer work.  Less access to telephones, prohibitive costs when you managed to find a working public telephone, and a lack of internet, meant we all had to make an effort to stay in touch.  This non-fiction title, from Penguin Ireland, sees a full two-sided conversation between a pair of Irish teenage girls, separated by the miles of sea between Ireland and France, in 1983.  Cathy has taken an au-pair job in Brittany, while Mary has stayed behind, in South Tipperary, to study accountancy.  The girls embark on their journey to adulthood in different countries, but united with their love of correspondence.   The best 'fancy paper' is brought out and letters fly back between the girls at a steady pace.   
The reader is treated to (almost completely) unedited transcripts of these letters, and is thrown back to the days of records, tapes and limited TV viewing.  Chris deBurgh,  The Eurovision Song Contest and Dallas are the topics of conversation.   The latest fashion is dissected and gossip is ping-ponged, back and forth, with great aplomb.  Boys are on their minds, suntans revered and independence is something to be a little afraid of.  The cost of stamps is on their minds at times, and phone calls are few and far between.  The local newspaper is passed on to Brittany and the rose of Tralee is a great source of material for girls litany of events.  Photos of the actual letters are dotted throughout the book, and show the effort Cathy and Mary went to, when writing to each other.

This is a wonderful, nostalgic look back to 1980s Ireland, in all its backward glory.  The church still had a handle on society; with contraception, divorce and abortion all up for debate.  The girls were full of innocence and still enjoyed knitting and country walks, rarely venturing into cities or even local pubs. Their outlook for their respective futures are fairly bleak, as Ireland in 1983 was suffering from very high unemployment and the holy grail of jobs was a pensionable post in the Bank.  Not so different to today, so...

This is a book for anyone who had a pen pal, who was told by their career guidance teacher that au-pairing abroad was the way to go, or for those of us who collected 'fancy paper' and stalked the postman.  Basically, for anyone who remembers the suffocation of 1980s Ireland, but with a hint of nostalgia.  The days pre-internet, pre-walkman,(never mind i-pod) and the times when a letter from a friend would light up your day, sometimes even your week.  I foresee a huge influx of non-fiction titles, with all kinds of correspondence within its pages, coming to the bestseller lists in the near future.  This one deserves a place right up there.  It is warm, charming and full of youthful innocence.  Ireland may have been in the depths of moral decline (according to the Catholic Church) but these two young women were perfect examples of how the biggest tragedy was actually the mass unemployment that divided the nation into two camps; those who could stay, and those who could not.  A narrative that is echoing once again through our country...

Highly Recommended. 

Dear Cathy, Love Mary is published by Penguin Ireland and is available in hardback and ebook format.  You can order your copy, with Free Worldwide Postage and 15% discount, here.  The ebook can be ordered via amazon link below:


  1. I would love to get my hands on a hard cover copy. I see that it's available in November but with limited availability. :(

    1. You can order via the link on this blog, and get free postage and 15% discount. It's a link to hardback and will be posted as soon as released. Here's link again:
      Well worth getting, as beautiful edition :)

    2. You can also order via amazon link but not with discount or free postage, however, it does say that they have the hardback in stock...

    3. Hi -I'm in California, USA. So; I don't think I can order from Ireland. Not sure. I'm hoping to get it through Amazon when it becomes available. I don't see it as being available. Maybe, only there right now.

    4. The link will work for you, Bonnie. They ship worldwide and I use them all the time. Great service :)

    5. I ordered it. Thank you! :)

  2. This sounds great. Will put on wish list


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