Northern Irish literature is steadily becoming a staple of my literary diet. And Tish Delaney’s debut has only made me hungrier.
Growing up during the Troubles on The Hill, Mary dreams of one thing only: the route out of Carncloon, away from her abusive mother and apathetic father, and over to America. Her best bet is with her boyfriend, Joe, whose doting doctor parents want nothing but the best for him. But first, the big event: her virginity, on Catholic school camp, with Joe and co-organised with her best friend Lizzie.
Things don’t go to plan and young Mary ends up pregnant out of wedlock. Rather than even contemplate the Catholic shame this would drown the family in, Mary’s mother Sadie has her married off to John Johns of Johns farm down the hill before the bump can even threaten to trip them up in the eye of the church. So, a bright child with uncapped potential becomes our narrator: a sad and bitter mother of five whose only sense of purpose is derived from her unquestionable love for her children.
I’m not sure it’s possible to write a novel set in this period in Northern Irish history without it being inextricably tied to the politics – if only because a plot cannot exist without the threat of a bomb – but Before My Actual Heart Breaks is much, much more than simply a vehicle for social commentary. The novel reads like it is breathing, weeping, laughing… like it has a life of its own; it is at times energising and others draining; at times skipping over large portions of time and at others hovering on a moment; it is in part a love story, in part a tragedy. I tore through it fast, before my actual heart broke.
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