REVIEW: PAPER CHAINS BY NICOLA MORIARTY

PAPER CHAINS
Author: Nicola Moriarty
Bantam Australia RRP $32.95
Review: Monique Mulligan

Paper Chains, Nicola MoriartyThere’s a lot to love about Nicola Moriarty’s latest book Paper Chains. Moriarty has delivered an emotive read that is both bittersweet and affirming, and highlights the lengths we go to mask our weaknesses. It’s also hard to put down. The day I picked it up it was too hot to sleep, so guess what I did instead?

Two Australian women, Hannah and India, meet in London and instantly click. India sees Hannah as someone to fix – someone with a secret that she’s determined to figure out fast. Hannah doesn’t think she deserves India as a friend (or any friend for that matter) but she soon realises that meeting India is a positive step forward. The thing is, Hannah is running from her life back in Sydney and all she wants to do is put the past behind her. Until she does, she’s going to have to punish herself as much as she can to try and relieve the guilt she feels for what she did.

As Hannah gets to know India more, she realises that India is also holding back. What’s the story with the letters (the paper chains of the title) India is sending to a past lover in the most unconventional way? What is India hiding behind her vivacious mask? Don’t true friends tell each other everything? Hannah comes to realise that maybe India also needs a little help.

Readers could be forgiven for thinking Paper Chains is a lightweight read at the outset, but it quickly reveals itself to be otherwise. Hannah, it turns out, is suffering post-natal depression – an illness she tried hard to conceal from her family. Running away, she rationalises, is the only way she can deal with what she’s experiencing – the stress, the moods, the urge to make it all stop. The cost is high, but she’d rather do this, than turn out like her mother. As for India, who inexplicably left the man she suspects is “the one”, she has a number of reasons to grieve, and, like Hannah she does not want to end up like her mother.

Paper Chains is at first glance, a character-driven story of secrets and friendship, but it’s much more than that. Themes of motherhood, redemption, forgiveness, mental illness and even the challenges facing blended families fuse effortlessly in this novel. Through her characters, Moriarty cleverly highlights the lengths we all go to hide our vulnerabilities, as well as our fears that we may, after all, turn out just like our parents. I particularly liked the way she drew out women’s need to connect with each other – for me this aspect was beautifully, touchingly highlighted by Carol, Hannah’s stepmother: “I know I’m not your mother – and I know you would never want me to try and take on that role in your life, but I still should have been there for you. And if it’s okay with you, I’d love to become a bigger part of your life … And if you ever need someone else to talk to, you make sure you call, okay? Because I’ve been through it all before, and I know it’s tough.”

The key characters are strongly developed and realistic; they’re both people I would want to know. I found that I could relate to each of them in different ways. Like India, I’ve often tended to put on a “happy face” for others in the midst of trouble (those that live with me still get the grumpy face); like Hannah, I have high expectations and I want things to be perfect – and I’m tough on myself when (in my eyes) I fail. I also grew up in western Sydney and I experienced a similar culture shock she did when she moved to the North Shore (although I experienced that as a young mother). In fact, as I read, there were many moments that I identified with, many feelings that I could say, “Yes, I’ve felt/experienced something like that before”. Which is why this book is so appealing – it’s honest, it’s real and it speaks to women on many levels. There’s a bit of Hannah and India in all of them.

Paper Chains is funny, honest and emotional – I really can’t recommend it enough. Moriarty has shown that she is gifted at writing in a sensitive and authentic way about real women in real situations and I look forward to more of her work.

Available from good bookstores and Random House Australia. This copy was courtesy of Random House. I’m including this in the Eclectic Reader Challenge 2013.

Bookish treat: Greek-style baklava – sweet and satisfying, just like this book. And a little bit nutty, like India.