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.  

Her Husband’s Mistake by Sheila O’Flanagan – Roxy must decide what she truly wants when her husband fails

 

Roxy makes a discovery that rocks her world. Her husband, father of her two children, is found to be behaving very badly with the next door neighbour. It is an even more difficult time for Roxy to be confronted with the sight as it is the day of her father’s funeral. It not only rocks fundamentally her relationship with her husband Dave, but makes her reconsider all the parts of her life as she has known them. She suddenly realises that the car that her father has left her, that she uses in her work as a driver for private clients, may offer an alternative  way of life. This is a story of a woman confronted by new experiences and a change of perspective in every way. While she appreciates her children, and her relationship with her now widowed mother, she is unsure as to whether she can forgive and forget her husband’s mistake. This is a book about the choices facing women in contemporary society, and individuals facing family challenges whatever their financial situation. This well written book shows great insight into life in the twenty first century, with some of the choices that people face. I was really grateful for the opportunity to read and review this excellent book.

 

Roxy and husband Dave, children Mica and Tom live in an pleasant house in Ireland. Together for many years, Dave runs his own plumbing business and Roxy has worked part time over the years. When her father falls ill, Roxy takes over his clients and drives an expensive car for clients keen to travel in comfort with a professional driver. She meets a variety of clients, ranging from an eccentric actress to a mysterious businessman called Ivo Lehane whose weekly routine of visits to a shabby area are strange and lucrative. When her father dies she is staying with her mother along with the children, and in view of Dave’s act of infidelity she opts to stay on for longer. She describes her indecision regarding her future as swinging between the option to return home and forgive and forget, or to stay away and try and make a new future for herself and her children. As she begins to explore her potential future she meets new people and possibilities. Her mother reveals a secret that makes Roxy reassess the basis of her knowledge of people, and question her choices. As her mother begins to make a new life, Roxy knows that she must work out what is truly important for herself and those who she loves.

 

This is a book which shows great insight into contemporary choices and lifestyles. It questions the nature of family love and loyalty and its implications for the future. I loved the lighter moments of genuine humour and family dynamics, and how what Roxy truly wants is not always what people expect. There is compromise and suspense as Roxy considers her options as events threaten to overtake her. Roxy and indeed the other characters are memorable creations,and the plot is realistic throughout. I recommend this book as far from being a straightforward romance, but actually a more subtle contemporary novel. 

 

I really enjoyed this book, which maintained several layers of suspense right until the end, as well as a few surprises.

Meanwhile we had a fascinating book club this afternoon, when we discussed Robert Harris’ “Enigma”, which I reviewed several years ago on this site. There was much talk about Bletchley Park and the way that even the most able women were relegated to more minor roles, as well as several admissions that the codes were a little tricky…