LIFESAVING FOR BEGINNERS
Author: Ciara Geraghty
Hodder & Stoughton RRP $27.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
Note: I read this book as part of a bloggers’ read along last month. Read alongs are a funny thing – the book is divided into sections and the bloggers read a section a week and then comment on a host blog. This read along was hosted by Bree at All the Books I can Read – it’s the third I’ve done with her and she does a great job hosting – she has a knack for asking thoughtful questions to guide the conversation. If you’re interested in the read along or want to know more about how they work, here are the links to our comments each week: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. Beware of spoilers!
Reading Lifesaving for Beginners as part of a bloggers’ read along didn’t work for me as it has in the past – while I loved the conversation, I just wanted to keep reading at my own pace rather than stop-start mode this time. I had so much else going on at the time, that I found it harder to pick up where I left off because my mind was jammed with so many other things. That said, I was sucked in with the first chapter of this book. It had a great hook worthy of “how to start a novel” writing classes: a tired truck driver in Ireland closes his eyes just for a second and opens them to see a deer in the middle of the road. And then, a bright yellow car tossed in the air “like a bag of feathers”. It’s a tragedy. One woman dies. It’s a miracle more weren’t killed. Like Kat, a thirty-nine-year-old woman who has to be cut from her car.
From the third-person narrative of the first chapter, the book switches to a dual first-person narrative. It took me a bit of getting used to at first, because I thought the story would include a focus on the truck driver – how he fared after that horrible night. Instead, the story is told by Kat (the survivor) and nine-year-old Milo, whose mother died in the accident. Somehow, through this tragic twist of fate, they are brought together.
Kat lives in Ireland, has an ordinary job as a technical writer, lots of friends, a boyfriend she’s not in love with, and she’s not at all hung up on her past. That’s what she tells people … and herself. It’s not true, of course. Kat writes the Declan Darker novels under the pseudonym Killian Kobain (but hasn’t even started the latest one her editor thinks she’s writing) and really does care about Thomas (unfortunately, she fails to tell him this when it matters). And there’s one more thing. Something that Kat did when she was just 15. Something she doesn’t want to think about ever again.
Milo lives in England. His mother was visiting her sister in Ireland when she was killed. Now his twenty-four-year-old sister Faith is looking after him because his dad lives with his pregnant girlfriend Celia in Scotland. Everything is different, but at least he still gets to go to his beginners’ lifesaving classes and hang out with his best friend Damo. When Faith finds some of her mother’s old papers and discovers a secret she was never meant to know, she wants to go to Ireland to get to the bottom of it. Milo doesn’t want to be left behind – after all, his mother never came back when she went to Ireland.
For me, one of the strengths of this novel is in the characterisation. Kat is the more dominant character in the novel – the one who goes through the most change, so a lot of our read-along discussions focused on her. Contrary and at times dismissive, she hides her past and true feelings behind a dual veneer of denial and indifference. I found myself reacting to her with frustration at times because she would push people away who clearly cared for her. It’s deeply ingrained behaviour – stemming at least from the incident when she was 15. After the accident, she starts to exhibit depressive symptoms, with some of her behaviour bordering on self-destructive. She was a hard character to like at first, but as I came to understand her more, I found myself caring more. Her development over the novel was believable. Milo, on the other hand, was a lovable young boy who I just wanted to wrap up in a big hug. I liked his ‘voice’. It added a much-needed sense of optimism to Kat’s darker, more self-centred voice. He, like Kat’s brother Ed, has a simplicity about him (partly because he is a child, but also I think within his character) that contrasts beautifully with the cynical Kat. If the catalyst for Kat’s growth was the accident, Milo is the glue that brings all the pieces together.
Lifesaving for Beginners is a novel about growth and change, loss and letting go, living and loving. These themes are explored in a variety of ways ranging from the loss of a parent to the fear of ageing, from letting yourself love someone to loving yourself. I particularly enjoyed how Geraghty gently explored what it means to be a woman – the pushes and pulls of careers, ageing, children (or no children), decisions made, regretted or left to stew, relationships with mothers and partners, and the fact that change is inevitable. I also enjoyed the reverse – the reminder of what it means to be a child, how it feels when a parent or parents are absent, the moments when you realise your parents don’t know everything – or kept things from you – and how children can be valuable teachers. One thing that still puzzles me though – Kat’s friend Minnie knows what happened to Kat all those years ago. Yet it was not talked about for nearly 25 years. I found that strange – I suppose it’s in keeping with Kat’s tendency to stick her head in the sand, but Minnie didn’t strike me that way.
I really enjoyed this book. There were no real surprises, and some of the of the ending had a Disney-like quality (other issues were left open-ended, which suited the novel well), but it still made me laugh and cry and not want to stop according to the read-along plan. There’s a lovely sense that all will be well and after reading two more confronting books between this one, that was refreshing. Will I read more of Ciara Geraghty’s backlist/her future novels? Sure will.
Available from good bookstores. This copy was courtesy of Hachette as part of the bloggers’ read-along.