About a writer’s life and the road not taken

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - BOOKS - JUS­TINE CARBERY

fol­lows that up with an­other col­lec­tion of short sto­ries, Fic­tional Fam­ily Life, short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize.

She is ful­fill­ing her destiny, ded­i­cat­ing her whole life to her craft, when the in­evitable hap­pens. She falls in love and de­spite her pub­lic avowal never to have chil­dren, finds her­self preg­nant, much to the de­light of her hus­band, Martin, a neuro-oc­u­lar sur­geon. When her son Daniel, and later Eric, are born, she finds un­ex­pected joy in mother­hood.

How­ever, her writ­ing stalls and lit­er­ally sits in a box at the bot­tom of a coat closet while she jug­gles the de­mands of be­ing a full-time wife and mum.

But the urge to write is too strong, is such a part of her soul, that she can­not sup­press it en­tirely. She be­gins to snatch mo­ments, to write in se­cret, hid­ing it from her bril­liant hus­band and de­mand­ing chil­dren. When a mon­u­men­tal be­trayal oc­curs, Ashby flees to In­dia, search­ing for a way back to her­self, to her artis­tic soul. And we travel will­ingly with her, so en­gross­ing the char­ac­ter, so mag­nif­i­cent the writ­ing.

In­ter­spersed through­out this fic­tional mem­oir of a bril­liant writer are ex­cerpts from the fic­tional au­thor’s short sto­ries and nov­els, and al­though the writ­ing shines, the over­ar­ch­ing themes con­nect, and the char­ac­ters il­lu­mi­nate her per­sonal strug­gle, th­ese sto­ries-within-sto­ries can some­times dis­tract from the for­ward mo­men­tum of the novel as a whole.

This un­con­ven­tional for­mat is brave from such a new novelist, and works for the main part, though may have ben­e­fited from some edit­ing.

But mostly it is just a gor­geous read, big and bold, in­tel­li­gent and thought-pro­vok­ing.

It is a long book but you al­ter­na­tively rush through it to find out what is hap­pen­ing, or linger on the con­struc­tion of a beau­ti­ful sen­tence, the depth of in­sight be­hind a para­graph, the sheer magic of a word.

Her char­ac­ters are com­plex and nu­anced and the themes uni­ver­sal; cre­ativ­ity, mother­hood, love, sib­ling ri­valry, the choices we make, the road not taken.

I can see this be­ing a top book club choice, with so much to dis­cuss, from the char­ac­ter’s be­liefs and be­hav­iour, to the at­ti­tudes of so­ci­ety in gen­eral.

How­ever I’m as­sured that ev­ery­one will be in agree­ment on one thing. We are go­ing to hear a lot more of Cherise Wo­las. Hope­fully.

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