A Book review by Frank O’Shea
Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen. Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling Gill Books, Dublin. 293 pp.
Here is a book to make any reader over 50 realise how out-of-touch with modern life (s)he is. And we are not talking about an inability to understand the language and thinking and lifestyle of teenagers – that’s a cliché. The characters here are all aged twenty-eight, give or take a year; they are mostly young women taking full advantage of their ‘babby-pills’ freedom.
That may imply a grey-shade treatment of life and loving, but that is not the case at all. In fact, there is nothing here that would raise the censuring eyebrow of a 1950s book-burner; sex is just part of what happens, like driving to work or going to the pub or playing hurling and just as a reader of fiction is not really interested in the contest between a full back and full forward, so there is no need to describe what may happen in the bedroom. And because these are working adults in their late twenties, we would be reading about bedrooms rather than back alleys or back seats.
Which brings us back again to the different world occupied by the characters in the story compared to the uncomfortable reader, admitted for purposes of this review, to have passed the biblical number allotted to man(!)kind. The book arose from a facebook page set up by the two authors which described the fictional life of Aisling, who does a weekly commute to Dublin from the small town of Ballygobbard (abbreviated as BGB for Ballygobackward).
Aisling – pronounce Ash… by the way – works in an office on something to do with pensions; her friends are teachers or work in the nebulous world of HR. They are country girls in the big city, but enthusiastic embracers of the culture in which they find themselves.
I suspect that she ended up in McGowan’s last night with her housemates. I just know she won’t have resisted the lure of Thursday night pints, even with a class of twenty-nine to face first thing in the morning. She swore blind to me that she was only going out, not Out Out. It’s an important distinction. Out is a couple of pints of Coors Light in The Big Tree or The Foggy Dew, last bus home, maybe a bag of chips if the hunger is at you. Out Out is roaring along to ‘jump around’ at 1 a.m., spilling vodka and Diet Coke down your work shirt.
There is nothing sinister in their ambitions, nothing proscribed in their practices, just young(?) women having a good time. And however much a reader may tut at their drinking habits, they realise that they must soon face the prospect of marriage and a plot of land from Daddy in their native place on which they will put up a five-bedroom, three-bathroom house.
There is a kind of story running through the book, but it has all the traits of what you might expect, given its origin: something made up by the authors as they went along. That need not take from it, because it is the writing that makes the book. The references are completely Irish and modern Irish at that.
My Gaisce bronze certificate is framed and hanging on the wall, along with my Leaving Cert results. Mammy and Daddy were very proud of my 440. I fell down in the French and my drop to Pass Maths still distresses Mammy, but didn’t I get a B in biology despite the Krebs cycle not coming up?
The book dominated the Irish bookseller lists in the second half of 2017, ahead of anything to do with crime or politics; ahead of Banville and Toibin and Marian Keyes. It does for young women in Kilbeggan and Kinnegad what Ross O’Carroll-Kelly did for men in South Dublin, albeit in a kinder, less abrasive and completely non-judgemental way.