Vivian doesn’t feel like she fits in – never has. She lives alone in a house in north Dublin that her great-aunt left to her. She has no friends, no job and few social skills. She knows she is different. Before they died, her parents used to tell her she was a “changeling” who belonged to another world. Each day, she walks the streets of Dublin, looking for a way to get there. “I need a big wind that could turn into a cyclone because today I'm going to visit Yellow Road and Emerald Street. In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the cyclone carried Dorothy to Oz, and she followed the Yellowbrick Road to the Emerald Palace to find her way home.” It doesn't work. After all, Dublin has a certain charm, but no actual magic. And so Vivian sets off on a new quest: to find a friend. A very specific kind of friend. “WANTED: Friend Called Penelope. Must Enjoy Talking Because I Don't Have Much to Say. Good Sense of Humour Not Required Because My Laugh Is A Work in Progress. Must Answer to Penelope: Pennies Need Not Apply.” A Penelope replies, but will the two women become friends? Will she make a connection with another person in this world so she can stop searching for a portal to another one? She sets off for their first meeting. ‘I huddle and tighten myself against the wind and think up ways to describe it to Penelope. Is a “rape” of a wind too strong for the first sentence of a first meeting?’ Rooted Dublin’s Northside, Eggshells is a whimsical, touching story about loneliness and friendship and hope.
This is a snapshot of one woman’s life. We don’t know how old Vivian is, exactly how she got to the point where we meet her, or where it is she is heading. It is written in first person present and is essentially a stream of consciousness. There is no plot as such. From her thoughts and her interactions with others we get a glimpse of her past but are never given the actual facts. And the book ends very abruptly, so much so that I thought I had some missing. But we had to leave her sometime and there was never going to be a resolution to the story. Does any of this matter? Not one jot. Normally I don’t do well with loose endings and get frustrated at not understanding the whys and wherefores of a story. With Eggshells, though, it adds to the intrigue and fits perfectly with the narrative.
We do know that Vivian has a sister, also called Vivian, and that her parents and her aunt are dead, and we get tiny hints as to how her relationships with her family were/are conducted. We know that our Vivian believes she is a changeling and she spends much of her time looking for the way back to the “other world”. The story is set in Dublin, and if you know the city that will undoubtedly be an added dimension for your reading, but it doesn’t matter at all if you don’t know it.
And what happens in this story? Well, very little and yet so much. Vivian is a wonderful character. This is a fabulous book. The writing is superb – it remains in character throughout. From the first sentence I had a “voice” for Vivian that didn’t falter once. I could see through her eyes and suffer her indecisiveness and awkwardness with people. I dodged her neighbours with her and, although I don’t know Dublin very well, I walked the streets with her. My heart broke for her. Rather alarmingly, I could identify a fair bit with her!
Vivian is clearly intelligent (we can tell from her use of language), and she is perceptive, but she is definitely wired up differently from most people. She is vulnerable and lonely. She does some “odd” things, yet usually with a view to making others’ lives a little brighter. She sends books to strangers and leaves money in cardigan pockets in the charity shop. She doesn’t like bathing, and she doesn’t look in mirrors. She writes endless lists, and draws patterns of the routes she walks. She advertises and finds a friend – Penelope (name specified on the advert), who is as damaged as Vivian – yet doesn’t know how to act with one, so maybe she’s not had a friend before. She plans what she will talk about with people because conversation doesn’t flow naturally with her. She treats it as an achievement when she manages to answer someone’s comment about the weather.
I just know that this book is going to get a raft of five stars and a raft of one stars, with probably not very much in between. For me, although I don’t like giving star ratings, I am definitely in the five-star camp. Whichever editor at Liberties Press picked this out to pitch to the editorial team, I salute you, and congratulations to Liberties Press for taking the risk, for I’ll bet you perceived it as one.
I loved this book – its humour and quirkiness and pathos and the way it carried me along. It is right at the top of the pile in my favourite books this year. I read it on a Kindle, but have bought the paperback too.
I’ll be very interested to know what you think.
Editorial Input & Design
I can’t fault it. If there is the odd typo I was too engrossed to notice or care.
Internal design: Perfect.
Book Clubs & Reviews
Book clubs Definitely one for book clubs, and I would love to be a fly on the wall at the meeting. I’d just had my turn for choosing a book for my club when I read this, otherwise I would definitely have chosen it.
What others are saying: Amazon UK readers give it 5 stars (1 reviewer); Amazon US readers give it 5 stars (2 reviewers); Goodreads readers give it 3.4 stars (5 ratings – 2 5-stars, 1 4-star, 1 2-star and 1 1-star).
Irish Times, 6 June 2015
Dublin Inquirer, 9 June 2015
Wales Arts Review 25 August 2015
Buy & Author
Publisher: Liberties press (paperback €11.69)
O’Mahony’s, Ireland (paperback €12.99)
hive.co.uk (paperback £7.75; epub £3.60)
Kenny’s (paperback €11.69, free postage worldwide)
Amazon (Kindle £2.99/$4.65; paperback £9.98; $13.99)
Follow the author:
Links of interest:
Niamh Boyce Interview with the author
Writing.ie Catriona Lally on the writing of Eggshells
Liberties Press blog Interview with the author