Book Review. This Happy by Niamh Campbell

W&N €17.99

This remarkable debut is the story of Alannah, now married (if uncomfortably) to an older man who hails from moneyed stock and has two children from previous relationships. The husband is never named and the marriage – or at least the reason for marrying – is never fully explained. It’s not a bad marriage, not really, but it just doesn’t seem to be a good one!

The possible reason for this lies in the trauma of a short affair Alannah had with a much older man (him married, also from moneyed stock and a writer for clients like the BBC). After three weeks of them living together in a rented cottage in Mornington the older guy runs off home to his wife in England. There’s no warning, Alannah simply wakes up to find him gone. A chance sighting of the landlady of this Mornington cottage, seven years later in Cow Lane, is the spark for an avalanche of memories.  

There’s a persistent mild despair within the story, which meanders from Alannah’s ‘mistress’ days to now, and it’s clear that she has not gotten over the Mornington experience. Her consciousness is dogged with a sense of loss, with abrupt abandonment, and it leaves a stain on her marriage.   

Already the comparisons with Sally Rooney are virtually everywhere, which is frustrating. If every young female Irish novelist who emerges over the next decade must be measured against Rooney, well…

Can we not make room for others?  Both Rooney and Campbell may be drawing from similar wells when it comes to material, but how each writer handles that material is really chalk and cheese. They can both cast a cold eye, but isn’t that a duty, almost, of any writer? Campbell’s novel is a fluent and insightful, frequently very beautiful work of fiction. The author deserves her own platform and her own slice of the literary limelight.

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