Nine Lives. Four Generations. One Family.
The MacEntees are no ordinary family.
Determined to be different to other people, they have carved out a place for themselves in Irish life by the sheer force of their own personalities. But when a horrifying act of violence befalls television star Alma, a chain of events is set in motion that will leave even the MacEntees struggling to make sense of who they are.
As media storms rage about them and secrets rise to the surface, Deirdre the flamboyant matriarch is planning a birthday party for herself, and with it one final, shocking surprise.
The Long Hot Summer the second book by Irish writer Kathleen MacMahon has been a long time coming. Her first release This Is How It Ends was way back in 2012 and at the time attracted lots of attention as her first two books had been bought for £600,000 at The London Book Fair. Was it worth paying that price? I'm not so sure. Did this new book live up to the hype surrounding its predecessor or did it succumb to the threat of the difficult second book? To me this book had so much potential but it fell a bit flat there was something missing that I can't quite put my finger on. Yes, it is an enjoyable enough summer read but I feel the author was hoping for a little more depth which wasn't achieved. I remember reading her first release and thinking what was all the fuss about? Is this really it? I never had that ahh moment and the same could be said for this book, so much potential but unfortunately never fully delivered.
The book opens as Deirdre - matriarch of the MacEntee family is glancing back through the scrapbook she has made over the years since she had her first encounter with now ex husband Manus. Having recently arrived from Kildare she fell head over heals for Manus and thought their union would last a lifetime. She had wanted to try her luck at becoming an actress and to some extent she was successful until the arrival of three children – Alma, Acushla and MacDara. Deirdre is now at the later stages of her life and feels age creeping up on her. Numerous things are starting to go wrong health wise and she realises she is not the sprightly young thing she once was. So Deirdre makes a momentous decision. When she has come to this conclusion she sets about arranging her birthday party where she will tell her family what the future holds. What immediately struck me was why on earth did Deirdre believe her solution would in any way help her family? To me there was no necessity for that idea to even enter her head. It would bring unnecessary hardship and suffering on a family who had been through so much.
After we meet Deirdre the rest of the book is split into segments. I say this because they are not chapters as such but longer. In each section we meet a new member of the family who tells their story. We see the problems they are all going through. None of the family appear to be especially happy or fulfilled with their lives. Apart maybe from Dad Manus who now lives with his Moroccan lover Sam. But even he too has a sad aspect to his life. To me segments are meant to come together to make one whole but it did not happen here. The book seemed very disjointed each story was interesting enough and there were some highlights but just as I was getting into it we changed to someone else. Even at a later point we never came back to someone we had read of before and for me it was all too brief of a glimpse into their world.
Normally in a book for me the women are always the strongest and most well written. In this case to me they were weak, well OK apart from Alma the eldest daughter who is a journalist and tv presenter. At first she was opinionated and not afraid to go against the grain of popular opinion but an attack at home leaves her fearful. That inner strength and ballsy attitude deserts her. The way she handles the reappearance of ex husband Mick didn't seem realistic to me and they slipped back into domesticity far too casually after so many years estrangement. Mick and his twin brother Liam were into politics. Mick is now Ireland's European Commissioner in Brussels while Liam (married to Alma's sister Acushla) is battling to regain his seat in the Dáil. Their storylines were boring and being honest politics doesn't interest me in the slightest. Mick's 'incident' was quite frankly ridiculous and even in this media obsessed age was a bit too far fetched.
Acushla's story was good but just too rushed for me. It barely scratched the surface of the emotions that could have easily been developed further. Then we had Connie (Acushla's daughter) and Nora (Alma's daughter) thrown in as well .Both getting their own sections when they just weren't needed. In fact to be honest several times I was getting confused as to who was who and how they were connected in the family. I never thought I would say this but easily the best parts of the book were when we heard from men (apart from Mick and Liam who like any politicians in Ireland you would just love to give them a piece of your mind) Manus and MacDara. Manus' section had some fun elements nicely balanced with the sensitive, realistic side of what he was experiencing with Sam. The way he deals with the clamping of his car has to be read to be believed. But by far the most gripping part of this book was the brother of the family MacDara. Criminally under utilised in my opinion. Brief glimpses were offered throughout the book but the reader only finally got into his head in the last section and despite the suffering he appeared to be going through( well as alluded to by his family members) I absolutely loved him and wanted more more more of his story. He had had a breakdown many years ago and I wanted more details. I wanted his opinions about his family and all the situations they find themselves in. What he had been up to unbeknownst to his family was really quite amazing. His voice was heard too late in the book and when it did start to shine through his section ended. I was happy enough with the outcome of the story but still the women of the family just fell flat and I ended up not invested in their personal stories.
Kathleen MacMahon was aiming to portray a snapshot of family life during the long hot summer of 2013. She did achieve this to some extent and parts of the writing are beautiful. You could see the potential within the pages but it just didn't all come together for me. I felt too many issues were thrown into the story and their explanations and solutions were rushed. Dealing with fewer problems and exploring them in more depth would have made for a better book. The Long Hot Summer is not the worst book I have read this year but far from the best. If you have a few hours by the pool pick this up but if you are looking for something more literary or even romance or comedy this is not the book for you. I think there is better things to come from Kathleen MacMahon so I will keep an eye out for her next book in the hopes that book three will be something that will appeal to me more.
I'd like to thank Emma for her honest review of this eBook which we received from the publisher via NetGalley.