Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Book Review - 'The Accidental Wife' by Orla McAlinden

Northern Ireland has a history of secrets and lies.  Decades of religious, political and social turbulence have added extra tension to communities contained in the top corner of a small island.  The roots of one family have spread over the years and the extended clan all have their own lives; some content, some troubled.  This collection of short stories brings the individuals to life, connected by land, blood and family.  The overall package is a window into the minds of Northern Ireland's residents, young and old.

Orla McAlinden's knows first hand what it was like growing up during the Troubles.  From Portadown, she has memories that are all too real.  In her Q&A section, at the back of the book, she says:

 "I have written my own stories through the eyes of my characters.  But some events were pretty universal and some fears were absolutely shared among the entire population.  Every single person of my age or older knows someone who died, or was injured, or who committed these awful crimes, or ministered the wounded.  It's not possible to write a book about Northern Ireland's Trouble without stirring up memories belonging to other people.

 There are stories from all age groups within the pages of The Accidental Wife.  From teenage Collette, who garners her control via her weight, through to elderly farmer, Alo, who craves a grandchild that may never arrive.  Generations of men and women continue their daily chores with a tremor of fear and uncertainty, not knowing what if feels like to live in a relaxed atmosphere.  Each story sheds a new light on the larger family unit.  Religious intolerance, racism, homophobia and sexism are all addressed and the patriarchal figures are blunt and inevitably lonely.  The younger generation are rising up the ranks but seem to be managing to screw things up just as nicely as their predecessors.  The Celtic Tiger appears and the light shines briefly on Northern Ireland, only to be extinguished in a flurry of abandoned buildings and dreams.  Throughout the narrative, human folly is at the forefront.  Sometimes you just can't blame politics or religion for your own personal failures.

The Accidental Wife is a raw and inspirational read.  The stories vary in pace and length, but each one is as deserved as the last.  The characters are brought to life using vivid and precise prose, with a litany of deceit, despair and disappointment blended in.  There are lighter moments peppered throughout, lending a more relaxed feel to the collection but the underlying atmosphere is one of tension.  This is an author with a sharp, concise and engaging literary edge.  McAlinden is sure to impress with her debut and is definitely one to watch out for.  Highly recommended.     

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