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A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle

This short novel by the fine Irish writer Roddy Doyle is written for teens, but I thoroughly enjoyed it on an adult level too…

Mary O’Hara is twelve. She’s feisty and rather cheeky – but then her Mum Scarlett was too when she was younger; it’s a family trait. Mary’s gran, Emer used to be like that too, but she’s nearing the end of her life in hospital, it won’t be long. Emer never really knew her mother, for Tansey died of the flu when she was only three.

One day as Mary is walking home from school, she meets a friendly old lady, who somehow seems familiar. They strike up a conversation, and the old lady is there again the next day. She says her name is Tansey. When Mary tells her Mum this, she’s shocked to the bone as the only Tansey she knows is her dead grandmother.

Mary introduces them, and finds out that Tansey is the ghost of her late great-grandmother who has come to help her gran in her last days. Together the O’Hara women hatch a plan to help Tansey and Emer meet properly before she dies, and to see what has become of the farm they grew up in.

Considering that death is one of the central themes of this novel, whether it be the impending demise of Emer, the sudden illness of Tansey, or the animals on the farm, there’s nothing shocking or unnatural about it at all, it’s part of the cycle of life. This allows the book to concentrate almost exclusively on the four women. The few male characters just pass through now and then, rarely stopping to join in the tale, like Mary’s teenaged brothers who only appear to eat; Mary finds Dommo and Killer, as Dominic and Kevin now monnicker themselves to be an alien species these days.

Doyle alternates voices between conventional story-telling and chapters narrated by one of the four women, starting with Mary. You can see their family resemblances clearly – not just in the way they look – for the O’Hara women are tall and slim like the greyhounds they kept on the farm, but also their inner strength, and cheeky forthright manners.  This allows for some typically humorous conversations between them, which gives a lovely bittersweet edge to this tale; not out and out funny like Doyle’s Barrytown Trilogy (in which The Van just cracked me up), but it will make you smile, and that’s a good thing for a book about dying written for teenagers to do. (8.5/10)

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My copy was an ARC received through Amazon Vine.
To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle, pub 1.9.2011 by Marion Lloyd Books, 176 pages.
Also by Roddy Doyle: the Barrytown Trilogy: “The Commitments”, “The Snapper” and “The Van”

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