Monday, 3 November 2014

Guest Book Review: Monica McInerney - Hello from the Gillespies

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

For the last thirty years, Angela Gillespie's annual Christmas letter has been full of her family's triumphs. But this year Angela surprises everyone, including herself - she tells the truth. 

Angela's husband is in the throes of a mid-life crisis. Her grown-up daughters are more out of control than ever. And her youngest child spends all of his time talking to an imaginary friend. 

With fantasy thoughts of a life before marriage and motherhood becoming more than just an innocent daydream, Angela's real life is slowly slipping out of focus. 

But, as the repercussions of her ruthlessly honest letter begin to pile up, a shocking event takes Angela from her family, and she realises she should have been more careful of what she wished for. . .

Amazon links: Kindle or Paperback

Hello from the Gillespies is the tenth incredible novel from Monica McInerney. Born in Australia but currently living in Ireland, Monica is an author who skilfully writes sweeping family dramas with such care and attention to the innermost workings of a family at a time of crisis.  It is a long novel at over 500 pages but I was so caught up in the trials and tribulations facing the Gillespie family following one moment of misjudgement that the chapters flew by and I read this in a day. Make sure you have plenty of time to read this as once you start you will become so engrossed you won’t want to put it down for anything. This is definitely a book where you find yourself saying just one more chapter and before you know it you are halfway through.

Set in the Australian outback on a remote sheep station called Errigal , the Gillespies are a family of six.  Angela is married to Nick whom she met by chance whilst travelling on a break from England. Together for over thirty years their children are nearly all grown up and times are changing for everyone. 

Twins Victoria and Genevieve (radio producer and hairdresser respectively) have hit a stumbling block in their careers for various reasons and both are forced to return home to regroup and decide on their next career move. Rosalind - affectionately known as Lindy - has yet again failed in her business ventures, the latest being a disastrous attempt at a sewing business which has left her with endless supplies of material to use up. 

Finally the youngest and the only boy 10 year old Ig (Ignatius) who has an imaginary friend called Robbie and has escaped from boarding school for the third time. Nick is also facing problems of his own with the farm failing due to drought and the collapse of the wool industry, he does the only thing he feels can save his family from ruin which is selling rights to diamond mining to a large company. With all this going on it’s no wonder Angela is experiencing numerous headaches and the stress of everything is slowly wearing her down.

Each year on the 1st of December Angela sits down to write the annual Hello from the Gillespies Christmas letter but this year is different she feels frustrated, fed up and at the end of her tether trying to balance family life and deal with the widening gap between herself and Nick. Unexpectedly she decides to pour her heart out in the letter with no intention of sending it. She lets rip allowing all of her worries and problems to be written down. Even going so far as to write down the imaginary life she envisages if she hadn’t married Nick. I think everybody has some sort of fantasy life in their heads which they can call to my mind in times of trouble to take them away from everyday life. So I don’t blame her for writing about it. Unfortunately a minor accident with Ig gets in the way and she is distracted. Unbeknowst to Angela, Nick sends the email to everyone on her mailing list.

So begins a series of events that will shake the family and test their ability to stay strong in times of hardship and distress. I think something similar has happened to everybody at some point in their lives. Ok maybe not such on a major scale but you know that feeling when you send a message to someone that it was so not intended for. I really felt for Angela as she was only letting off steam, it wasn’t fair that a moment of release could have such far reaching consequences.

Combined with the wonderful setting and a diverse cast of characters each with their own problems and faults  this really was a compelling  novel. The more I continued to read the more I cared for each character and was hoping against hope that Angela and Nick could work through their differences and that Victoria and Genevieve would find what they were looking for in terms of life and love. I do have to say Lindy annoyed me she was such a needy person and wasn’t at all independent for her age relying on others to bail her out of bad business decisions. She just seemed selfish and I wanted her above everyone else just to grow up and stopping thinking of herself. Yes, she must have been lonely because the twins had each other and Ig had his imaginary friend Robbie but surely she could have dusted herself off and come up with another way to move forward and better herself. Only when I read about some events in her childhood did the character of Lindy become clearer to me and I realised why she acted the way she did.

Halfway through there is a major twist which in a way made me angry, I didn’t want that to  happen at all but really it was essential to the plot and so well written that I soon got over my issues. From this point the tone of the novel changed and each character seemed to come in to their own and step up to the plate and become more engaging which many of them had needed to do. It also allowed other characters to shine such as Joan (the Gillespies neighbour) she provided plenty of support and much needed laugh out loud moments. Ig also stepped into the spotlight here and with such witty one liners for a ten year old he stole the show and also a piece of my heart.  There are plenty of subplots throughout the book some stronger than others but each was dealt with in a realistic where you couldn’t help but care for the characters and how they resolved their difficulties. 

Monica McInerney is not afraid to deal with real life issues that face families everyday, what is the point of painting a portrait of the ideal happy family where nothing ever goes wrong and people are always happy and contended? That isn’t real life but the author manages to write about this family in such a way that you can’t help rooting for a happy outcome for each of them. 

This was an engaging, captivating, heart-warming family tale with a strong message at its centre - families should always stick together through thick and thin  because when no one else is there families will always have each other. I was sad to leave the Gillespies behind as I had really come to care for them and by the end of the book I  wanted to move to a sheep station after reading such glorious descriptions. Hopefully Monica may write more about this wonderful family in the future.

I'd like to thank Emma for reviewing this eBook which we received from the publisher via NetGalley.

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