The Women Who Ran Away by Sheila O’Flanagan – two women search for clues for life

 

An idyllic literary tour of France and Spain sounds a most attractive idea for a holiday, staying in beautiful hotels, exploring small towns and cities, eating fabulous food, all sounds wonderful. However, the two women who undertake this journey in this lovely book from Sheila O’Flanagan’s  are both traumatised and searching for a new perspective to be able to cope with their recent respective pasts. Deira has been in a relationship with Gavin for thirteen years, coped with various challenges, and now feels betrayed. Grace is an older woman whose strong willed husband is dead, but she still has many questions and regrets about the man who controlled most of her adult life. Meeting by accident or fate, thrown together on this unusual journey by unique circumstances, this is a book which explores more than beautiful scenery in their search for new lives, or at least a way of coping with their present ones. This dynamic book looks at the cost of love and relationships for women in contemporary Ireland, and the strength of new friendship in coping with the challenges that women face. I found this a remarkable and wholly enjoyable read, full of genuine insight, beautiful descriptive writing and a powerful picture of women who have regrets. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel. 

 

The book opens with Deira acquiring a convertible and very desirable car from her ex partner’s car parking space. They had booked a trip with it from Dublin by ferry to France. Deira decides that although they have split up, she still wants to fulfil her ambition of driving around Paris in an open top car. She is angry with Gavin for more than just breaking up with her in finding a younger woman; she now feels her chances of becoming a mother slipping from her. She accidentally meets Grace, an older woman of serene beauty who gives the impression of coping brilliantly with life. However, after a small accident and no longer being able to drive the disputed car, Deira discovers that Ken, Grace’s late husband, has left her a series of puzzles on his laptop relating to the hotel rooms he has booked for her to stay across France. It emerges that Ken had been one of Deira’s literature lecturers at University, and she helps Grace to solve the mainly author related clues on a treasure hunt. As they travel together they reveal their individual traumas to each other; Deira’s sense of betrayal, Grace’s realisation of how Ken had dominated her life and always assumed that she would cope. They both have their points of despair, but in each other they begin to discover a mutual support in their journey through beautiful countryside. 

 

This is a genuinely lovely read in which the setting shimmers with sunshine and comfort, but is shadowed by the emotions that both women struggle to come to terms with as they share some times and also separately consider their lives. It shows how women can give up their independence and their chance to live their own fulfilling lives. It shows how women, people, can go through truly difficult times, as Grace says “And you look back and and say, that was a terrible week, or month or year.But you’ve got to remember that it’s only a tiny amount of your whole life.”. I enjoyed this read of what feels like real life in some respects, when ironic events can bring home what we have, and what we have achieved. I thoroughly recommend this book for its wonderful writing, its insight into the questions many people, certainly women, ask, and its sense of momentum as the two women travel hopefully.   

 

This novel is a contemporary story which contrasts in some ways with the historical novels or classic books that I often review, but I think that some of the issues it discusses transcends the time in which it is set. The themes of limitations on women’s lives and much more really dominate this book as it does in many historical books, even if the twenty first century is supposed to be a time of equality. Not an obviously “feminist” book, this novel does look at some of the dilemmas which women face today, and how they can begin to cope.  


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