The Rachel Incident by Caroline O’ Donoghue | Book Reviews | General Fiction
The Rachel Incident by Caroline O’ Donoghue

By Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

The Rachel Incident by Caroline O’ Donoghue

The Rachel Incident by Caroline O’ Donoghue is published with Virago and is described as ‘2023’s hottest summer read’. Primarily set in Cork in the late 2000s, The Rachel Incident is a book about self-discovery in those final college days, as that big step into adulthood looms large.

Rachel has lived at home in Douglas, a suburb of Cork City, all her life. She is in her final year in University College Cork (UCC) and works part-time in a local bookshop in the city centre. She is twenty years of age, in love (or so she thought) and with a bright future ahead but Rachel was far from content. When James Devlin started working alongside her in the bookshop, there was an immediate connection between them. In a very short space of time, Rachel was single and moving into a house in the warren of streets, near Cork’s infamous Shandon Bells, with her now best friend, James. Together they made plans for a bright future. They knew every detail of each other’s lives and had an unbreakable connection that clicked into place immediately.

Now Rachel lives in London. She has a job and a life that has turned out unexpectedly well for her but when she receives a piece of news, her mind is thrown back to those heady days and the turbulent events of her final year in college. With stunning and accurate descriptions, Caroline O’ Donoghue brings Cork alive, taking the reader on a scintillating and, at times, heart-breaking journey as Rachel struggles through a very challenging year.

During this period of time, Rachel had what she thought was a crush on one of her professors, Dr Byrne. James and Rachel devised plots and scenarios allowing for Rachel to cross his path but neither could have foreseen the direction this infatuation would take them in.

Although a completely different story, The Rachel Incident, with its strong Cork setting, reminded me of The Art of Falling by Danielle McLaughlin mixed in with the writings of Sally Rooney and Naoise Dolan. This book is about the complexities of life in your early twenties but written from a very fresh and entertaining viewpoint. Rachel doesn’t wallow in self-pity. She deals with what life throws at her. She’s smart, witty and warm-hearted and is very clear about where her loyalty lies. Although her decisions are not always wise, she stands over them, accepting her mistakes and the results of said mistakes.

Caroline O’ Donoghue frames this novel perfectly with the social and political dynamics of the time. She has written a coming-of-age novel with so many aspects that many of us can relate to and empathise with. We have all made mistakes in our twenties. We can all look back at the pure stupidity of some of our actions. Caroline O’ Donoghue encapsulates a time in all our lives, that time when many of us had a last hurrah before putting on our big pants and stepping out into the world of adulting.

The Rachel Incident by Caroline O’ DonoghueThe Rachel Incident is unflinching, completely engaging, intelligent and perfectly bedraggled. Chaotic and nostalgic, Caroline O’ Donoghue has written a delicious novel with wonderful and authentically flawed characters. I loved it!

(c) Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

Order your copy online here.

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