The Mess We’re In by Annie Macmanus | Book Reviews | General Fiction | Literary Fiction
The Mess We’re In by Annie Macmanus

By Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

The Mess We’re In by Annie Macmanus

The Mess We’re In by Annie Macmanus is published with Wildfire and is described by Sara Cox as ‘beautifully painted, well set up and realistic’.

Set in Kilburn, The Mess We’re In is the story of a young Irish woman, Orla Quinn, as she embarks on her London odyssey with hope and expectation. Orla moves into a room in a house-share with her friend Neema and Neema’s brother, who is part of a band called Shiva. All the other band-mates live in the house also. Neema is a law student with a clear career path ahead of her, with Orla’s sights set on the music industry. Orla writes music, plays guitar and has studied music production. She understands the music but she has no direct experience of the music industry. Living with a band has possibilities for Orla but she needs to bide her time and put in some hard and dirty work.

She picks up a job in an Irish bar, where she witnesses first hand the different generations of Irish who left their homes never to return. There is a melancholic atmosphere running through these scenes, a lingering sadness for unfulfilled dreams and paths never explored. The characters are all beautifully depicted with an authenticity that really adds depth to the story.

Orla lives a wild life. It’s the early 2000s and she spends most of her time lost in a fog of drink and drugs, partying and playing hard. Orla’s passion for music came from her Dad but with her Dad after leaving her mother for another woman, Orla is devastated. She refuses to talk to him, refuses to acknowledge his new life. To Orla’s eyes he has broken up the family and doesn’t deserve her respect. She becomes very centred on her own circumstances, wallowing in self-pity to the point of disregarding her relationships. Neema is her best friend but it’s clear that even Neema is challenged by some of Orla’s path toward self-destruction.

Annie Macmanus brings the sights, smells and sounds of this era very much to life. I didn’t personally have ‘The London Experience’ but have heard stories from those who did. There’s almost a sense of ‘what stays on tour…’ when you hear folk recount their experiences. I expect to really feel it, you have to live it. The dank conditions of the accommodation, the disenchantment, ambitions thwarted were a common thread across many stories of expats who left Irish shores with hopes of a more exciting and a better life. For many these dreams were very quickly dashed, with many losing their way down a pint glass with a whiskey or two for company. In Orla Quinn’s case, she found herself on a very precarious ledge, living a blurred existence caught up in a spiral of coke, pills and the thrum of the music.

From the beginning Orla embraces this new and hectic life. She quickly immerses herself in its daily rhythms, excited at what lies ahead for her. Every small step forward is another notch on her goal to independence

“I try to stop grinning, to fix my face to look more casual at this scene – this pub in Camden, this band that I live with now – as if this is just a typical evening for me instead of the first night out of the rest of my life. Then the barman catches my eye. I lean forwards. I am a Londoner now. I’m a voice in the noise. I’m ready”

As someone who grew up surrounded by music and, with a brother who was steeped in the local band scene, I loved the attention to detail with all its rawness and grit. Annie Macmanus breathes life into all her characters placing the reader right in the middle of the, at times, almost anarchic life of Orla Quinn. This is a book full of passion and life, a book that beats to its own drum, an exhilarating reading experience. Annie Macmanus knows the music industry well, adding a real authentic and trusted layer to this tale.

The Mess We’re In by Annie MacmanusThe Mess We’re In is the story of a young woman looking for her place in the world. It is a loud, throbbing, non-apologetic, immersive and unyielding story, a novel packed with nostalgia for the chaos of those insane years of our twenties. (although probably not quite that insane!)

(c) Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

Order your copy online here.

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