HELLO FROM THE GILLESPIES
Author: Monica McInerney
Penguin RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
As the year draws to an end, I’m starting to make a mental to-do list for Christmas; somewhere on that list is the annual “News from the other side” email I send to family on the other side of Australia. I think it’s nice, not too long … but the first few chapters of Hello From the Gillespies by Monica McInerney made me stop in my tracks. What if no one reads the annual Christmas letter? What if it’s boring because all the bad bits are filtered out?
In Hello From the Gillespies, an annual Christmas email proves the catalyst for a family to pull together … or fall apart. For more than thirty years, Angela Gillespie has sent a cheery, good-news letter to more than 100 people, including family, friends and acquaintances. This year, she forgoes the niceties and writes the real news, pouring all her worries, fears and frustrations into a never-to-be-sent draft. Of course, the draft is sent by Angela’s well-meaning husband and now everyone knows the Gillespie family are not that perfect after all. The family’s reactions range from hurt to mortification, while friends congratulate Angela for the amusement value, but all this is forgotten when Angela is involved in an accident.
I’m a big fan of McInerney’s writing. She has a gift for capturing family dynamics in a way that makes you laugh and cry, exposing the “dysfunctional” (or is it normal?) reality in a light-hearted manner without downplaying the more serious issues. In Hello From the Gillespies, the characters variously deal with ageing, empty nest syndrome, depression, isolation, unplanned pregnancies, career woes, broken relationships and boomerang children, all of which are enhanced by the trials of living in a remote rural location. The issue that gets the most attention is memory loss and McInerney does an excellent job showing the impact of such a condition on those involved. It’s not an easy situation, whether the cause is Alzheimer’s, dementia or other and McInerney shows the confusion, sadness, concern and hurt that results. Her compassion shines through.
Hello From the Gillespies is a character-driven novel, so the focus is more on how the characters deal with what life has thrown at them than on the location (it’s mostly set in rural South Australia with side trips to Ireland and London). This is not a bad thing, because McInerney is great at character development, but I do love it when the location comes to life as much as the characters. Some of the characters had more “airtime” than others, and at times I felt sorry for Lindy, always shunted to the background. She reminded me of Mary in Pride and Prejudice and I almost felt like she didn’t get a fair go (she seemed depressed but this was never taken seriously), even though the epilogue showed her moving on. Another thing McInerney is good at is making you care for her characters, and this was no less true in Hello From the Gillespies.
McInerney’s way with words continues to resonate and she’s sure to win even more hearts with Hello From the Gillespies. It will pull at your heartstrings, make you smile, then pull the heartstrings even harder.
Available from good bookstores and Penguin Australia. My copy was courtesy of The Reading Room and Penguin Australia.
Bookish treat: I can’t decide between scones and jam on the porch of Errigal, or having a picnic with Angela’s son Ig. He reminded me of my boys before they got too big for all the huggy stuff.