BEFORE MY ACTUAL HEART BREAKS by Tish Delaney (Hutchinson £14.99, 384 pp)


by Tish Delaney (Hutchinson £14.99, 384 pp)

Mary Rattigan dreams of escaping her toxic family background in Northern Ireland to seek her fortune in the U.S. But accidentally becoming pregnant at 16 puts paid to all that. Instead, a hasty wedding is arranged to handsome local farmer, John Johns.

Despite not being the father of Mary’s daughter, John dotes on the child. His relationship with Mary, though, is fraught with problems and the pair live in a state of near estrangement.

Mary is an eloquent narrator, conveying her and her husband’s pain with exquisite and moving precision. The loneliness, grief and long-lasting repercussions of trauma are achingly real.

The graphically described Troubles provide a powerful backdrop to this arresting and moving novel.


THE DIVINES by Ellie Eaton (Hodder £17.99, 320 pp)

by Ellie Eaton (Hodder £17.99, 320 pp)

After her new husband’s discovery of a pornographic photograph, journalist Josephine is forced to look back to her school days, where the picture came from. Prestigious English boarding school St John the Divine was forced to close shortly after Gerry, one of the pupils, was badly injured falling from a window.

Josephine remembers what went on leading up to the fall: the mysterious appearance of a series of pornographic snaps; the crush she developed on Lauren, a ‘townie’; then on Lauren’s brother — with devastating results.

Ingratiating herself with Skipper, her erstwhile best friend, involved bullying Gerry, despite her help when Josephine was in trouble. The novel draws us into Josephine’s life, watching her confront her memories while trying to align them with who she is today. The teenage tension and angst among the girls is all too convincing in this compelling story.

Catherine was only five when her father died. She has never got over it. Nor has she got over her Christian childminders, Bernard and Pat, who looked after her while her mother was at work, but who were far from the saints they seemed to be. 

The novel is narrated by an older Catherine, who sifts through her memories in bite-size chapters of differing lengths.

‘I often wonder if I remember anything at all or whether it is all made up. Is my life all made up?’ Her voice is intriguing, at once childlike in tone yet adult in language, underscoring the ongoing influence of the past on her present circumstances.

As the fragments piece together, Catherine’s story becomes horrifyingly clear. Memory and the tricks it plays are at the centre of this intense piece of writing.

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