Saturday, 16 April 2016

Emma's Review: Somewhere Inside of Happy by Anna McPartlin

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

'And just like that my boy was gone.'

Maisie Bean is a fighter. A survivor. Seventeen years ago, she went on a first date that went so badly it was enough to put the girl off chips. The marriage that followed was hell but it gave her two children: funny, caring Jeremy and bullish but brilliant Valerie.

Just as it seems everything might finally start going right, sixteen-year-old Jeremy goes missing. The police descend and a media storm swirls, over five days of searching that hurtle towards an inevitable, terrible conclusion.

Maisie is facing another fight, and this time it’s the fight of her life. But she’s a survivor. Whatever the odds, she’ll never give in.

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Ten years ago when I read Anna McPartlin's d├ębut novel Pack Up the Moon I remember thinking here is an author with real talent with plenty of excellent books to come in the future. This was clearly shown with Anna's remarkable release last year The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes. When I started that book I was extremely wary as I thought the book was going to be a very hard read full of doom and gloom considering the subject matter. In fact it turned out to be the complete opposite as the book was a tour de force full of humour and laughter finely balanced with the more serious aspects of the theme being explored. Really I couldn't recommend Rabbit Hayes highly enough. Now a year later Anna is back with Somewhere Inside of Happy. I am often left wondering how does the plot of the book connect to the title sometimes I'm still left guessing at the end but here the title is so apt, memorable and bitter sweet especially when you discover why that it will bring a tear to your eye. The only thing I wasn't keen on with this book was the cover everything else is just phenomenal. I much prefer the Irish cover for the trade paperback edition but that is just my personal preference. But cover aside the plot did sound like another absorbing, emotional read. I knew I was once again in for another roller-coaster of a read and it certainly proved to be that as I barely came up for air until I finished the very last page.

Told over the first six days of the new year of 1995 and from several characters viewpoints Somewhere Inside of Happy will leave you an emotional mess but ultimately uplifted. You will be so glad that you took the time to read this book and that Anna had the guts and determination to write about themes which are really not dealt with in the women's fiction market. Well at least not in this way. Right from the prologue you are sucked into the life of Maisie Bean Brennan a woman you will laugh and cry with and by the end you will discover just how remarkable she is and what a very special family she has despite all the trauma and suffering they have endured. We meet Maisie just as she is side stage about to take her place behind a lecturn to address a group of college students. Family members and friends are also in the audience for what is a momentous special occasion. 

From the outset the author's deft touch with humour and wit is evident as Maisie already battling nerves has to contend with a hot flush and a mouth as dry as sandpaper. How can she face these people and tell her story? But she can and she will do it for her son Jeremy - a boy twenty years gone but not forgotten. A boy misunderstood at the time but full of love and good nature. Maisie begins her story on the day 'when one misunderstood action led to a chain of events that changed her life for ever.' We then move back to 1995 to just the first six days of what proved to be a year that will be forever etched in Maisie's mind. This line had me crying and it was only the prologue 'My first born Jeremy, was conceived in violence and died in violence but while he was alive he was the light of my life'. He certainly was the light of this incredible book.

Maisie Bean has been through a lot in her life but one thing is for sure she loves her kids and her mother and will do absolutely anything for them. Living in the Tallaght area of Dublin Maisie works two jobs, weekdays at the local dental surgery and weekends in a factory. A single mum she can't always give her kids the material possessions they would like but she has an abundance of love. Love which was not knocked out of her despite suffering horrendous, repeated abuse at the hands of ex husband Danny Fox. Right from the first date Danny was a nasty piece of work but once he had sunk his claws in it became very hard to fight to release his grip. Eventually after much trauma and the help of Garda Fred Brennan Maisie is free but there is always that lingering feeling that Danny could reappear when least expected after all he does have two kids he probably feels he has some rights to. Jeremy is 16 and Valerie is 12. 

Both children were brilliantly written and I loved both of them for different reasons. Jeremy has taken on the role of the only male in the house and fulfils his role with pride. He is always there to help Maisie with Bridie although as both children said when it comes to dementia they draw the line at toilet duties and leave that to Mum. Jeremy is hiding things. Outside appearances to his family make it seem as if everything is OK and sure Maisie has enough to juggle every day with Bridie and work etc not to mention Garda Brennan after many years he has just asked her on a date. Maisie hasn't really noticed anything unusual with Jeremy but the reader can see all is not well. He is under pressure both socially and emotionally. His best friend Rave isn't having the best time of it either. Friends since they were young boys they live in each others pockets and Jeremy can't bear to see his friend endure such blatant lack of love and care. As for Valerie she was an absolute tonic throughout the book. Just on the cusp of becoming a teenager she said things like they were and she couldn't wait to pull Maisie up on her language as the swear jar became ever more full.

So why is Maisie recounting her story of the six days that forever are stamped on her brain? Well the boys go missing in bad weather following a drinking session in the park and what unfolds will leave you torn apart, an absolute wreck but eventually you will sit back and think wow and realise just what an amazing story Anna McPartlin has written. I read the first half of this book with an increasing sense of dread and tension. You knew something was going to happen but not the exact details. I had a knot in my stomach reading and all the signs were ominous. I had my fingers crossed that the characters would find their somewhere inside of happy but can life turn out the way we want it to? Once the boys are officially declared missing and the search begins the guilt descends upon Maisie. How could she have not know Jeremy had been gone for 30 hours? Why did she let herself have a sliver of happiness and release on a date with Fred? Why did she not know something could have been wrong with Jeremy? So many questions, so much pressure and guilt on Maisie. As a reader you don't want her to feel this way. My heart was just breaking after everything Maisie and her children had been through only to come out the other side stronger and then this happens. How can so much bad fortune beset such a loving family? 'Why? What have we done to deserve it? Maybe she was cursed or had done something bad in a previous life or was simply born under an unlucky star...or maybe it was simpler that that. Maybe things went pear shaped for Maisie and her family because she was weak'. How on earth could Maisie think that about herself? 

She was one the strongest, most amazing characters I have read in a long time. Yes she has her vulnerable side but don't we all? I wanted to reach through the pages and hug Maisie and comfort her and offer solace. Tell her things would turn out ok and Jeremy and Rave would be found safe and well and everything would be explained. I felt her pain, anger, fear and horror that she was once again suffering. The chapters just got more intense, raw and honest and also eye opening the more we uncovered what actually was going on. Thankfully Anna also included chapters from the boys and their friends perspective. It would have been a let down not to get the full picture.

The writing throughout this book was just beautiful and having the chapters short enough and told from every major characters viewpoint was excellent as it gave great flow to the book. Not one character was out of place or under utilised, yet at the same time this gave the reader an insight into how everyone was feeling and how they were reacting to events unfolding. The humour is there from the outset but never used in the wrong place. Reading one line you were crying but by the next the author had you chuckling away to yourself. The character of Bridie was written with such sensitivity that at no point did I feel she was being made a fool of or just there for the comedy value. Dementia is a serious illness which touches so many family's lives (including mine). It's not a laughing matter but  Anna just has this knack of using just the right word or phrase to convey wit whilst dealing with a serious issue. You don't feel all maudlin and sad (although you may be crying) because if the characters don't when really they should be in the depths of despair than neither should the reader. Anna nailed the chapters told from Bridie's perspective, her absolute innocence almost returning to a childlike state, her confusion and lashing out and then the sombre reality when she realises she is not a young nurse but rather she is old and her daughter Maisie is just trying to look after her. Bridie searching around the house for Jeremy just tore at my heart. In books we never get to hear the dementia sufferers voice and I applaud Anna McPartlin for giving Bridie her voice because it certainly needed to be heard.

Without question Somewhere Inside of Happy is a contender for my book of the year. I really didn't think Anna McPartlin could better Rabbit Hayes but she has and that's not to take anything away from what I said about that book when I reviewed it last year. The books are totally different but Anna has shown she is just an absolutely superb writer who can turn her hand to any topic and write about it with such sensitivity while providing her readers with a gripping emotional story. Never do I gasp out loud at a book but here I did as I just couldn't stand what was happening at a certain point. I thought Anna McPartlin just what have you done to me and can only imagine how Anna found the strength to write the later half of the book. I came to this book after a series of really so-so reads and was just at the point where I thought will I ever read a book again that will grab me and just not let go? Thankfully this beauty then came into my life and restored my faith that there are wonderful books and authors still out there waiting to be read and when you least expect it a little gem will come along. Honestly I don't give five stars all that easily but this book deserves that and much more and no matter what I say no words will do this book the justice it so richly deserves. 'You're an amazing woman Maisie Bean.You have no idea how special you are and it needs to be said' . She really doesn't know how special she is but you will if you pick up this outstanding book which I really urge you to do.

Thanks to Transworld for the review copy of Somewhere Inside of Happy which we received via NetGalley to review.

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