What Eden Did Next by Sheila O’Flanagan
In this thoughtful novel set in contemporary Ireland, Sheila O’Flanagan has set up a series of dilemmas for a young woman who has had to deal with tragedy in her fairly recent past. O’Flanagan draws on the lives of the comfortably off to tell the story of Eden, left in one terrible instant a widow with an unborn child by the tragic death of her husband. Understandably rocked by this event, she has had support from her husband Andy’s family over the years since, and she has devised a way to feel close to him. This book looks at what happens when she begins to feel ready to make a fresh start, but the past in its various guises seems to drag her back, before her daughter Lila, before Andy and to another life.
This searingly honest book looks at the emotions behind family ties, both actual and arranged by circumstance. There is romance, a rekindled and yet new formed attraction to someone from before the complications, who suddenly reappears in a new form, with a new backstory of his own. It speaks powerfully of the lingering influence of gratitude, of assumptions made by others for one’s future, and the shock of the sudden urge to move on, to change. It is cleverly set in an area where local gossip mimics family communications, where women see a lone man with a daughter as an opportunity, and a family assumes that a bereft daughter in law will never move on. It features remarkable characters including a strong minded older woman with some memorable views , as well as the would-be matriarch desperate to keep her son’s memory alive. At the heart of this brilliantly written novel is Eden, still shaped by her past, but discovering that moving on may not be impossible. I found this a truly absorbing novel that offered so much, and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.
Throughout the book we read letters that Eden writes to Andy, posting them so they arrive at her house addressed to him. They are moving accounts of what is going on in her life,and are fascinating to the reader as insights as to what Eden is really thinking, the essence of how she is coping without him. They express the love she still feels for him, as well as what is happening with Lila, a daughter he did not know of unless it was in the last frantic words Eden whispered to him. As the book progresses she uses the letters to reflect on her feelings, her surprise at meeting a man from her past in a very different set of circumstances. As she begins to feel the pressure from past events in her life, as before meeting Andy she lost both parents suddenly as a child, she is forced to consider the effects of her losses, as well as her ties to those who were there to take care of her. When she discovers that her carers were challenged by their responsibilities she learns more about her life. The real test comes when Andy’s mother makes plans that reflect her own interests rather than Eden’s, and a choice emerges that will hurt and upset someone whatever she decides.
This is a relatable and sometimes funny novel that reflects a real life dilemma for a woman poised on the edge of a potential new start. The romance element is relatable in terms of its hesitant and confusing beginnings. While Valerie, Andy’s mother, is a particularly vividly drawn presence in this novel, I enjoyed the reading of the other characters in the street where Eden works, Elizabeth being a particular favourite for her forthright views, though the gossip whatsapp conversations are also very entertaining. This is such a well written and absorbing novel that I recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading of the dilemmas and choices facing women in the twenty-first century.