Orna Mulcahy chooses seven superb summer reads …
Chef Daniel Oswald Costello, hardscrabble, handsome, holder of two Michelin stars, father of two boys, husband of his childhood sweetheart, rapist? The fiery atmosphere of a restaurant at the top of its game is the setting for Sarah Gilmartin’s latest novel SERVICE (Pushkin ONE, €19.35), which follows her terrific 2021 debut, Dinner Party: A Tragedy. Told from the perspective of Daniel, his wife Julie, and Hannah, who, a decade earlier had waitressed at T, a fabled Celtic Tiger Dublin restaurant, the book opens as a court case looms: a former employee, Tracy, has accused Daniel of rape. When Tracy seeks her support, Hannah is forced to relive her time at T, recalling the hectic kitchen atmosphere, the exquisite food and immaculate table settings, the entitled grabby diners, the tips, the after parties, the shots and cocaine bumps, the dancing, the cold store room. As Daniel senses victory in court, Hannah comes to terms with her damaged self and does what has to be done.
Naoise Dolan’s 2020 novel Exciting Times was one of the hottest debuts of the last decade, and now comes her second novel, THE HAPPY COUPLE (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, €14.99) a thrillingly acerbic take on relationships. Fans will find her acerbic style intact as she introduces Celine and Luke at home in their expensive but crummy Dublin flat. Celine is a pianist who minds her hands. Luke is a communications strategist who says very little. Somehow they have gotten engaged though Celine wonders why she is marrying a man? The reader might wonder too – Luke goes AWOL from their engagement party with Maria, Celine’s stunning ex. Then there’s Archie, Luke’s old university friend and sometimes lover who is determined not to be Best Man. It’s hard to understand Luke’s attraction for almost everyone in the book, except Celine’s sister Phoebe, who considers him devil spawn. When he starts having his own doubts twelve hours out from the wedding, things could turn ugly if it weren’t for Dolan’s diamond-sharp dialogue and marvellous sense of the ridiculous.
If you love Deborah Levy then you won’t mind where she takes you. AUGUST BLUE (Hamish Hamilton, €19.35), her latest novel, shuttles between Athens, the Greek islands, London, Paris and Sardinia in a dreamlike narrative in which world-famous but blocked pianist Elsa has come to a halt in life. Recognised wherever she goes by her mane of bright blue hair, as the book opens she is in Athens, observing a woman who looks very like her and is in the act of buying a pair of small mechanical horses. Elsa covets the horses and steals the woman’s hat instead. As Elsa fills in the hiatus in her career giving private lessons to rich teenagers, she looks everywhere for the woman, while avoiding what she must confront: the impending death of Arthur, her one-time saviour and piano teacher who needs her, and is the only one who knows her true story.
There are so many scenes that would break your heart in Michael Magee’s debut novel CLOSE TO HOME (Hamish Hamilton, £13.99) but still it’s one of the most uplifting books I’ve read this year. Set over a decade ago in recession-ridden Belfast, it’s the story of Sean, recently returned from Liverpool where he studied English and hoped to become a writer. Drawn back into the messy lives of his old friends, he scrapes by on a part-time pub job that earns him enough to go on massive benders. There’s mayhem ahead as Sean confronts his fractured family and their violent secrets, but it’s Magee’s superb rendering of characters, his tender, funny and fearful descriptions of friendships that make this book a winner.
TIDES GO OUT (Orpen Press, €12.99), a first novel from former RTÉ broadcaster Julian Vignoles, explores the territory of a long, even-keel marriage that’s about to come unstuck. Con finds himself wandering the streets of Cork, camcorder in hand, for a film he may never get to see. With Alzheimer’s advancing, he is struggling to recall faces, conversations, his career. His wife Fiona is trying to stay positive but she needs to tell him about an episode in her own past that is threatening to erupt. When Con disappears she discovers that he, too has a secret – in the form of a Danish mistress. Vignoles writes sensitively and really beautifully about the mundanities and acceptances of family life and provides a final frisson when the cruelty of the disease is brought to a devastating conclusion.
Strap yourself in for Andrea Mara’s NO ONE SAW A THING (Bantam, €13.99) a mile-a-minute thriller about a friends’ reunion that implodes when one of their children disappears on a crowded Tube. Sive is rushing to catch the Tube in rush hour when the unthinkable happens – her six- and two-year-old daughters push their way into the train just as the doors are closing, leaving Sive on the platform with her baby. At the next stop one child gets off, but where is her sister? Rushing between Tube stations, Sive and her barrister husband Aaron call on their London friends to help in the search for six-year-old Faye but real friendship comes from an unlikely source – tough journalist Jude who’s determined to get the the scoop of her career. The twists keep coming as the action rockets back and forth in time exposing the terrible truth that binds the friends together and eventually wrenches them apart.
Emma Cline’s THE GUEST, (Chatto & Windus, €19.99) is a Hamptons summer story with an edge. Alex’s wealthy older boyfriend provides a haven from her sketchy New York existence but summer is coming to a close and he is getting tired of her ways. When she misbehaves once too often in front of his friends, he sends her packing, but Alex has a very good reason not to go back to New York and quickly insinuates herself into other people’s lives, living by her wits and her designer clothes. Like a modern-day Lily Bart, Alex looks the part and plays the part, but she’s not prepared to live by the rules and ultimately pays the price.