Title: Scenes of a Graphic Nature
Author: Caroline O’Donoghue
‘Do you know what céad mile fáilte means?’
‘A hundred thousand welcomes.’
‘Not a hundred thousand homes. Not a hundred thousand “stay here’s”.’
Charlie Regan’s life isn’t going forward, so she’s decided to go back.
After a tough few years floundering around the British film industry, experimenting with amateur pornography and watching her father’s health rapidly decline, she and her best friend Laura journey to her ancestral home of Clipim, an island off the west coast of Ireland. Knowing this could be the last chance to connect with her dad’s history before she loses him, Charlie clings to the idea of her Irish roots offering some kind of solace. But she’ll find out her heritage is about more than clichés and clover-foamed Guinness.
When the girls arrive at Clipim, Charlie begins to question both her difficult relationship with Laura and her father’s childhood stories. Before long, she’s embroiled in a devastating conspiracy that’s been sixty years in the making . . . and it’s up to her to reveal the truth of it.
With a sharp eye and sour tongue, Caroline O’Donoghue delivers a delicious contemporary fable of prodigal return. Blisteringly honest, funny and moving, it grapples with love, friendship and the struggle of second-generation immigrants trying to belong.
Scenes of a Graphic Nature is engrossing, gripping and, at times, very humorous. Charlie is a filmmaker, living in London and struggling to survive on a tiny income. The film she has made is based on the childhood of her Irish father, who is terminally ill and was the sole survivor of a freak accident when all his classmates died from carbon monoxide poisoning. When the film gets selected for the Cork Film Festival, Charlie and her best friend Laura (who worked on the film with her) set off for Cork to attend the Festival but also dig a little deeper into the story they based their film on.
The book has, for me, a winning blend of mystery – what really happened all those years ago? Is everything as it seems in the tiny island where this tragedy took place? – and a character-driven plot. We are inside Charlie’s head, and she makes for a brilliant narrator. I thought she was funny, self-deprecating and honest, and though she made some questionable choices at times, I really warmed to her and wanted her to succeed. Her friend Laura is an interesting one – you’ll find out more as you read the book – and together they make quite a twosome.
Scenes of a Graphic Nature explores family loyalty (and community loyalties), sexuality, friendship, having a parent whose history is rooted in a different country, and the pressure that is often piled on those in their late 20s/ early 30s to ‘succeed’ and make something of yourself. It makes you think and laugh at the same time, and there’s grit and shocking moments in here too. The added intrigue around what really happened is (as someone who loves a mystery) just makes this even more enjoyable a read for me. Would recommend!
Many thanks to Virago, who provided a copy of this novel on which I chose to write an honest and unbiased review.