'And just like that my boy was gone.'
Maisie Brennan is standing on a podium on the twentieth anniversary of the death of her son, trying to find the first breath that will help her start talking to a room full of strangers. A daunting task at the best of times, but she's also menopausal and one hot flush away from totally losing it.
But as Maisie begins her story, she soon relaxes and word by word disappears into her past, back to 1st January 1995 – the day when one mistaken action led to a chain of events that changed her life for ever...
Somewhere Inside of Happy by Anna McPartlin was published in Ireland on 5 November 2015, and will be released in the UK in April 2016. It is published by Transworld and is the author's seventh novel. I reviewed her last book; The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes here on Random Things in January of this year.
There are some books that take some time to really engage with, you need to learn a little about the characters and the plot before you can fully immerse yourself into the story. There are other books that totally embrace you immediately. Somewhere Inside of Happy is one of those books. I read the prologue and was instantly a fan of the lead character Maisie Bean Brennan. Those few opening pages are exquisite, they are the hook that snares you, and keeps you spellbound right up until the very last full stop.
Maisie stands before an academic audience to launch the book that she wrote to celebrate the life of her sixteen-year-old son Jeremy who died twenty years ago. The coughs and whispers settle down, and Maisie takes a deep breath and begins to talk, The audience and the reader are then taken back to New Year's Day in 1995 and the following five days. Five days that changed Maisie's life. Jeremy was "born in violence and died in violence", yet Maisie adored her boy. His sister Valerie looked up to him, his grandmother Bridie thought he was the best and his friends respected him.
Jeremy was different. He knew he was different, he struggled with being different, and being different was the reason that he died at such a young age.
Somewhere Inside of Happy is told in multiple voices. Along with Maisie, the voice of Jeremy is loud and clear, and beautifully depicted. His younger, more boisterous and cheeky sister, Valerie is a larger than life character, dealing with her fading memories of the father who has been gone for so long and dealing with the guilt that she feels for still loving him, despite what he did to her Ma, and to Jeremy. Wonderful grandmother Bridie, her voice loud and clear despite the exhausting and damaging effects that Alzheimer's Disease has on her. There's Fred, wonderful, caring, kind Fred; the police officer who picked Maisie up so many times over the years, the guy who found her on the floor, broken and bleeding. We hear from friends of Jeremy; Dave and Rave; two boys with issues of their own, boys who are having to cope with hidden problems that overwhelm them whilst trying to keep up the tough-guy image to everyone around them.
When Jeremy goes missing, the absolute and utter despair felt by his family as they search for him is almost tangible, and at times I thought that I couldn't bear to read on, as the pain is so so real, but then Anna McPartlin flings in a slice of down-to-earth, Irish humour, and although the heavy and dark themes are still there, there are also the sun-spots of hope and happiness, and love and joy that add another dimension to this beautiful novel.
At its heart, Somewhere Inside of Happy is the story of a mother's love, but is also a story about how expectations, beliefs and decisions can change a life for ever. The power of love is strong, but doesn't always overcome everything.
Anna McPartlin's background as a stand-up comedian shines through in her writing, she expertly and cleverly combines humour with some of the darkest, most emotional subjects. Somewhere Inside of Happy is warm, often funny, emotionally draining and quite heartbreaking. It is also hopeful and contains a message that is so very important. I have the utmost admiration for Anna McPartlin, fans of Rabbit Hayes will adore Maisie, and readers new to this author have such a treat in store for them.
Huge thanks to Naomi from Transworld for sending my copy for review and who continues to recommend and send the most fabulous books to me.
Anna McPartlin is a novelist and scriptwriter. Her previous incarnation as a stand-up comedian left an indelible mark. She describes herself as a slave to the joke and finds humour and humanity in even the darkest situations.
Anna lives in Wicklow with her husband and animals.
The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes, Anna's previous novel, was a Richard and Judy selected title and a top-ten bestseller in the UK and Ireland.
More information about Anna McPartlin and her books can be found at her website www.annamcpartlin.com
Follow her on Twitter @annamcpartlin