When a novelist's debut is a resounding success, it can create heavy pressures of expectation. Catherine O'Flynn's debut, What Was Lost, was long-listed for the Man Booker and Orange Prizes, and won the Costa First Novel award. Her follow-up, The News Where You Are, was less striking, perhaps because it lacked the child protagonist of the debut's first part, and the chill of a child's disappearance. Here is her third, a tale about a father and son getting to know each other better as adults.
Eamonn and Laura emigrate to Lomaverde in Spain. The property developer absconds, with debts; Eamonn's job folds, Laura leaves him, and Eamonn is plunged into apathy. Then his father, Dermot, arrives. Father and son learn to understand and accept each others' foibles. Eamonn is contemptuous of other expats, imagining dastardly motives and exaggerating flaws. As Dermot tries to cajole Eamonn into enjoying life, it becomes apparent that Eamonn's disdain for others stems from self-disgust, alienation and depression.
O'Flynn is good at mild comedy, humorously illustrating idiosyncrasies in her characters as Mark Haddon and Roddy Doyle do. But whereas Haddon moved on to explore more complex relationships and a less simple prose style in The Red House, Mr Lynch's Holiday can still feel so slight as to border on the insubstantial. O'Flynn is delightful when she is more outrageous: a phone tutorial given by a clearly libidinous Eamonn, or a description of features with "a kind of Le Bon-like swollen bully quality to them... fleshy in an affluent kind of way".
O'Flynn should allow herself to be indecorous more often. She is also insightful when she steps away from comedy, describing Eamonn's pain over his break-up, or Dermot's guilt at occasionally having felt irritated with his late wife when she was ill and his gradual acceptance that life couldn't be lived on eggshells because of impending death, but "had to be lived in denial of death, and with the right to be sometimes aggrieved, sometimes ill-tempered, sometimes disappointed". This is a good novel, but O'Flynn is capable of another great one.
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