Review: Sue Leonard
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Nuala Ní Chonchúir
New Island; €12.99
IT’S SUMMER 1980. At the Olympics, boycotted by America, Nadia Comaneci is enchanting the world; and that includes a 10-year-old in Dublin, who lives by the Liffey with her ma and two young brothers.
The girl, who has a difficult Irish name, is referred to, variously, as little miss prim, cheeky pup, or, by six year-old Liam, as smelly arse. Watching the Olympics, she longs to learn gymnastics, but meanwhile, she has more troubling matters on her mind.
Her ma is sad. She cries a lot, and then is taken to hospital for a little rest. She likes ma’s friends, Noel and Cora, who look after the children in her absence. They’re kind, but it’s not the same. Then there’s her da. He left to live with the prickly Geraldine and they now have a snivelling daughter, Clare. She sees him still, but their outings are never satisfactory.
When her ma links up with Noel’s brother, Kit, life seems brighter, but when ma is off with Kit for a weekend away, tragedy strikes.
The girl is a feisty narrator. A keen observer, she tells the story from her own perspective, but using ‘you,’ instead of ‘I.’ So it’s, ‘you’re clumsy. You’re always letting things drop’. It’s a device that works well, and, of, course, provides the title.
You is a sweet, simple coming of age tale. The girl has a good heart. She never resents helping with housework, or caring for the baby. Terrible things happen; the novel is heartbreaking at times, but it’s never violent. Although the girl has sticky moments with her da, she is surrounded by people who love her. It is reminiscent of Julia Kelly’s debut, With My Lazy Eye.
The novel flows beautifully and is understated in tone. The author, who lives in Co Galway, has already won prizes for her poetry and short stories. This gem is sure to win her further acclaim. Nuala Ní Chonchúir is a writer to watch.
This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Saturday, May 15, 2010