Book Review: Things We Never Say

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Author: Sheila O’Flanagan
ISBN: 978-0-7553-7844-9
RRP: $29.99

I have read a few of Sheila O’Flanagan’s more recent previous works and I thoroughly enjoyed them so I have been really looking forward to this one. I was expecting drama and conflict but ultimately quite a pleasant and heartwarming read so I was extremely surprised to find myself so angry for so much of this novel. Having said that it was still a very enjoyable read and I found myself totally engrossed, having to read just one more chapter because I simply had to know what was going to be next.

We start out jumping around a little, both in time and place, and meeting different people with no apparent connection. It isn’t until later that we discover how they are all connected.

Fifty-five years ago in Ireland a rebellious young lady finds herself in trouble and must be punished. We know her name and little else of her situation.

Jump forward 45 years and we meet the dysfunctional Fitzpatrick family at the funeral of the family matriarch. Fred is devastated at the loss of his wife, he had his retirement mapped out and all the ways he was going to make the most of it with his wife. Instead he needs to move forward into the future alone. His children are all grown, they don’t seem to get along very well with each other and their relationship with Fred doesn’t seem very close either. There are many old hurts and resentments, which I think is the case with all families.

Jump forward another 2 years and cross the world to San Francisco where Abbey Anderson is meandering her way through life working part time in an art gallery, and part time in a beauty salon as a nail technician. She is still close to her mother’s ex-boyfriend but her relationship with her mum is quite distant.

things we never say

Now that we have met some of the cast the story begins in the present. Suzanne Fitzpatrick is living in Spain and looking at opening her own hotel, if only she can get together the finance. Gareth Fitzpatrick and his wife Lisette are struggling to stay afloat in an economic climate that isn’t doing their property portfolio any favours. Donald Fitzpatrick is struggling to juggle his ex-wife and two daughters with his young second wife who has every intention of being kept in the lifestyle she feels she deserves.¬† Abbey is brokenhearted to discover the guy she was living with is basically a huge heartless jerk.

Fred, well Fred is playing with his sons and dangling his will over their heads even though he is still relatively healthy for his age. He knows he hasn’t always been the most hands on dad but he always provided for his children, ensured they had the material things they needed in life and left the rest to his wife to handle. He worked hard and built a good life for his family – which apparently entitled him to be a philanderer because a man has to let off steam. I don’t know how his wife put up with him. Now he is getting on and he knows he hasn’t got forever, and he’s a widower so on his own, it almost seems like he makes a sport of trying to stress his sons and their wives about what they will be left and constantly changes his will. Through all of this there is very little mention of his daughter who left home, and Ireland, as soon as she could and hasn’t come back.

Abbey is contacted by an Irish lawyer looking for her mother and her life is turned upside down, her trip to Dublin ends up changing her life more than she could ever have predicted and there doesn’t seem to be any going back.

I don’t want to say too much about the actual story and give much away, I’m also at a bit of a loss as to how to talk about it without doing that. So much of the characters and their behaviour is tied up with the events of the story.

Things We Never Say focuses on family, how we perceive it, how we see ourselves in it and how we let it define us. It also demonstrates how ugly money can make us if we let it. I must say that through a lot of this book all I could think was thank goodness there is never going to be a big inheritance issue in my family.

A key plot point of this novel is centred in Irish history with the Magdalene Laundries, it turns out that that’s where our rebellious young lady of the first chapter was.

Abbey is a well rounded character who is very self conscious, she is not very confident within herself or with her talents, and it makes her quite easily led. She is not very decisive so she allows others to herd her in the direction they think is best. It is wonderful to watch her gain some confidence, grow some backbone and start standing up for what she thinks and what she feels. It takes time, which all good development does but it also takes a specific conversation to make her look at things differently and realise that it was her talent and her skills that got her where she was. Her growth saw her become a confident woman who knew what she wanted and knew that if she worked at it she would get there in the long run.

The Fitzpatricks on the other hand showed no growth, learnt nothing, and left me with a horrible taste in my mouth. They behaved reprehensibly and brought out the worst in me. I really wanted things to blow up in their faces, I wanted them to learn that behaving so disgracefully doesn’t get you what you want, it gets you what you deserve. Suzanne was different, she was a Fitzpatrick there was no doubting that but she had been gone for so long that her behaviour was very UN-Fitzpatrick-like and that was a good thing.

I was engrossed and I was certainly emotionally involved, even if they weren’t always admirable emotions, and I really enjoyed the book. O’Flanagan’s characters were well drawn, even if they were very hard to like, and at times their motivations were indecipherable.

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