Monday, February 18, 2013

Lifesaving For Beginners - review by Nicky Pellegrino

The late Maeve Binchy once told me that Irish people are great talkers which is why they make great storytellers. According to Binchy it’s never a compliment in Ireland to be called a good listener; they prefer people who can tell a yarn. With the much-loved author’s death last year publishers are madly looking for the next Binchy – a writer of warm-hearted stories that’ll make readers laugh and cry. They may as well call off the search because Dublin’s Ciara Geraghty is already filling the void.

Geraghty’s fourth novel, Lifesaving For Beginners (Hodder & Stoughton, $34.99) isn’t a Binchy copycat but does have much of what made her fiction so popular: characters who are decent people deep down even though they may be troubled, emotional storytelling, a sort of generosity of spirit, a warmth and poignancy.
The novel opens dramatically with a truck driver falling asleep at the wheel and hitting two cars. The occupant of one dies, while the other miraculously survives. It’s the aftermath of those crashes, the people whose lives are changed and the extraordinary link between them that form the backbone of the story.

Milo McIntyre is nearly nine and growing up in Brighton where his Mum runs the Funky Banana café – or at least she did until she was killed on a trip home to Ireland. Milo’s elder sister Faith is now looking after him but, since she’s been left reeling by the discovery she was adopted, very often Milo finds himself looking after her instead.
Kat Kavanagh is nearly 40 and living in Dublin. She has some big secrets – for a start she’s a best-selling crime thriller writer hiding behind a psuedonym – and she also has a problem. Spurred on by her near death experience her boyfriend Thomas has proposed to her and, even though she’s mad about him, she’s pushed him away. Holed up alone in her apartment, drinking too much and writing too little, she starts receiving threatening phone calls from someone who has guessed her identity.

The two distinct voices and perspectives work brilliantly. Kat is prickly and rather selfish but redeems herself as you get to know her. Her sections of the story are reminiscent of that other popular Irish author Marian Keyes with lots of gentle, family-based humour and a sardonic tone. Kat has a Downs Syndrome brother called Ed that she adores, a distant, literary mother and a past she’s ashamed of.
As for Milo, he is adorable, heartbreaking and funny. I’ve no idea if he’s a realistic nine-year-old but I hope so. He’s plucky and honest, with that child’s often comic inability to filter his conversation.

The link between the McIntyres and Kat isn’t so difficult to guess and the car crash they have in common isn’t remotely probable but it’s not the real glue that holds this story together so that doesn’t matter too much.

I never managed to read a Maeve Binchy novel without tears coursing down my face at some point and Lifesaving For Beginners had that same effect. It’s a lovely novel with a careful balance of bitter and sweet – Geraghty can certainly tell a yarn.

Nicky Pellegrino,(right), an Auckland-based author of popular fiction, is also the Books Editor of the Herald on Sunday where the above review was first published on Sunday 17 February, 2013.
Her latest novel When In Rome is set in 1950's Italy and was published in September 2012.

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