13 April 2013

Review: A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle

'She'd tried to even the score, by saying Yes so often that the No would fade to nothing.'

"12-year-old Mary's beloved grandmother is near the end of her life. Letting go is hard - until Granny's long-dead mammy appears. Her ghost has returned to help her dying daughter say goodbye to the ones she loves. But first she needs to take them all on a road trip to the past."

If I had read A Greyhound of a Girl in a vacuum (not that reading a book in a vacuum is ever possible), not comparing it to the other books on the current Carnegie shortlist, I think this would be a more glowing review. However, whilst I really enjoyed it and was very moved by it, it didn't quite meet the heady heights set by the others on the shortlist. Undeniably capably written, but I felt it didn't really do anything new or exciting so whilst I would definitely recommend this but I don't think it's unique enough to compare to the rest of the Carnegie shortlist.

First Line: 'She hated the hospital.'

Why I read it: It's currently on the Carnegie shortlist.

Who I would recommend it to: If you were moved by the themes of A Monster Calls and enjoy stories of mothers and daughters.

This is a lovely story of four generations of women; sharp 12 year old Mary, her free spirited mother Scarlett, her dying grandmother Emer and her great grandmother, Tansey who died young of influenza but who has come back as Emer is dying to help the daughter she never really knew. This is a ghost story, in that they main plot device is a ghost, but it is not really a ghost story of shocks and scares but of longing and family. I really loved the relationships between the women but I did think the whole feminine bond thing was a little heavy handed at times - the exclusion of Mary's brothers felt a little unsubtle at times and the idea that they couldn't deal with their grandmother's death because they were old and/or male was disappointing. Especially as I felt they were characters clearly struggling and yet their mother apparently made no effort to help her sons deal with what was happening. There are few male characters, and they are all lacking in empathy or communication skills making for some rather broad gender stereotypes. I'm not really sure how boys would engage with this story.

The women are all lovely and unique though (Scarlett perhaps a little too self conscious quirky - a less delicate version of Mina's mother from My Name is Mina). I particularly loved Tansey - the passages describing her family and her death I found the most moving and were my favourite. I preferred the historical sections to the present and felt the story lost a bit of momentum in the final climax, which is a Big Fish-esque journey to the sea but that lacks any real tension or excitement. Despite that though, I was absorbed by the story, it is not a long or difficult read and I read the majority of it in one sitting. If you don't think too hard about it and take it on surface value it is a engaging, likeable book with some lovely, moving moments. Doyle tells his story expertly but without really attempting to do more than tell a simple and charming story.

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