The Im­por­tance of Be­ing Me

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE - LOR­RAINE COURT­NEY

Car­o­line Grace-Cas­sidy

Black & White Pub­lish­ing, pbk, 294 pages, €8.95

‘Ifeel like I am be­ing watched. Sit­ting alone peo­ple-watch­ing only re­minds me that peo­ple are prob­a­bly look­ing back at me in pity”. Court­ney Downey doesn’t know who she is any more. She had the per­fect life, per­fect un­til her ex David took up with a younger woman called Mar-nee and skipped out on his mar­riage.

While Court­ney doesn’t par­tic­u­larly re­gret the break­down of their re­la­tion­ship, she does feel the ab­sence of a man in her life and can’t get along with her 15-year-old daugh­ter, Su­san. In the early chap­ters, Su­san is a cardboard cutout teenage char­ac­ter, for­ever buried in Snapchat sto­ries. The fi­nal blow comes when Su­san an­nounces that wants to leave and live with her dad and Mar-nee full-time.

When Court­ney is un­ex­pect­edly of­fered a job in sea­side Corn­wall, she heads off for a sum­mer of sec­ond chances and a string of pre­dictable in­ci­dents that speed by on a soapy froth. St Ives is “like the sea meets laven­der meets co­conut oil”. Then Tony, the gor­geous town Lothario with a his­tory, ap­pears on the scene. Court­ney is de­ter­mined not to get in­volved, but Tony has other ideas and the bulk of the rest of the book is ded­i­cated to their slow dance of courtship. Spoiler alert: hearts and flow­ers even­tu­ally ap­pear.

On a trip home she finds out that her best friend Claire’s hus­band has been cheat­ing on poor, obliv­i­ous Claire for years with a string of men.

“We do what great friends in trou­ble do best,” Court­ney tells us. “We make new plans, ex­cit­ing new plans… We squeal and laugh and then drink our­selves un­der the ta­ble and hail a cab each home to sleep it all off. For new be­gin­nings are com­ing our way. We’ll give it a shot.”

Claire and Court­ney de­cide to take on a joint project — run­ning a Cor­nish restau­rant, push­ing them­selves out­side their worlds and try­ing to fig­ure out how they want to spend the rest of their lives.

The ini­tial chap­ters have the genre’s ten­dency to bucket dump in­for­ma­tion on char­ac­ters from an om­ni­scient per­spec­tive, and it’s spelled out one too many times that Court­ney is hid­ing from her own life and has never been prop­erly in love. From then on, au­thor, ac­tor and TV3 Mid­day pan­el­list Car­o­line Grace-Cas­sidy’s plot mainly ram­bles around Court­ney’s in­se­cu­ri­ties, find­ing hu­mour in the mun­dane, and at her hero­ine’s ex­pense.

I thought that Court­ney, at age 38, is too much of a spring chicken to be let loose on the sub­ject of mid­dle-age and bo­tox.

But what Grace-Cas­sidy suc­ceeds in do­ing is to tread, with flam­boy­ant show­man­ship, a fine line be­tween ac­knowl­edg­ing the dif­fi­cul­ties of mid­dle age — not duck­ing out of writ­ing about the un­rav­el­ling of mar­riages and the chal­lenges of an­tique par­ents and teenage chil­dren — with­out turn­ing her book into a downer. She is ca­pa­ble of be­ing an acute ob­server of be­hav­iour and the book is writ­ten with hu­mour and lev­ity.

Court­ney gets her cho­co­late-cen­tred happy end­ing and those who can’t get enough bang­ing on about Spanx and bo­tox are in for a real treat here. Grace-Cas­sidy’s lat­est book is a page-turner ev­ery bit as charm­ing and ab­sorb­ing as her pre­vi­ous five and worth toss­ing into the beach bag.

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