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Eggshells by Caitriona Lally

Writing.ie | General Fiction

By Margaret Madden

Vivian is not great at social interaction. Actually, Vivian is extremely awkward in company and can go days without speaking to another human being. A grown-up orphan, she lives in an inherited house in Dublin’s North inner city. She has sporadic contact with her sister, also called Vivian, and avoids her neighbours as much as possible. However, she would like to have friends, have a purpose to her days and someone to bounce her random thoughts off. Lemonfish, her decrepit goldfish, is not one for words, so she advertises for a friend. But Vivian, being the individual that she is, only wants a friend called Penelope. No nicknames, like Pen or Penny. She has her reasons, one being her love for certain words and their formations. When she receives a reply, Vivian embraces the idea of friendship, despite initial reservations, and travels outside her comfort zone. The reader is brought on a memorable journey, through the streets of Dublin, where Vivian looks upon the city from a unique angle. She sees places, landmarks and road signs unlike most of us. She sees colours where we may see grey, history in place names long ignored and symmetry that is taken for granted. But can one survive the streets of Dublin when unable to converse to an acceptable norm? Vivian walks the streets, to a certain pattern, determined to find answers within the city limits…

Vivian may be the most endearing character I have encountered in modern Irish fiction. Like Jonesy, from Donal Ryan’s The Thing About December, there is a raw, honest and innocent feel about her. Caitriona Lally shuns the label of ‘mental illness’ and shows how the most intelligent minds can often hide behind the facade of awkwardness and insecurity. Vivian’s personal hygene, for example, is atrocious, as she doesn’t see the need to conform to the ‘norm’. She is afraid of her own reflection and sees no need to change her clothes on a regular basis. To her, food is fuel, money is for the bare basics and the real goal in life is to find harmony in words, on the streets, in history and in books. When she makes an effort to conform, albeit in her typical unusual way, there are hilarious consequences. A trip to the hairdressers in the City’s largest department store actually made me laugh aloud, while her attempts to gain the friendship of a taxi driver had a mixture of humour and sadness blended together. Vivian’s sister is riddled with sibling embarrassment and disdain, yet she is aware that she is tied to her namesake forever. Their interaction is uncomfortable from her perspective, yet her oblivious sister tries her best to blend into their family unit.

Lally has created a character which will remain forever etched in my mind. Vivian is a woman who many would cross the road to avoid, yet could enrich the lives of others. Her idiosyncrasies may seem extreme and would make you wonder if such a character would survive without access to cash on a regular basis (not really touched on in the novel). But, this is fiction, and like The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simpsion, Eggshells is such a clever read, using the protagonist as a way of making the reader question the accepted ‘norms’ of our everyday lives. There is a also a touch of magic injected into Dublin’s Northside, which is a welcome change to the more fiction-populated areas on the Southside. No need for leafy suburbs and canal walks, when Vivian shows the hidden gems on the other side of the Liffey. Some may say that not much happens in this debut novel. I would disagree. It is full of sincerity, spacial awareness, a reverse view of today’s expectations and an massively memorable character. Highly recommended for lovers of Irish literary fiction…

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