Ordinary Human Failings: The heart-breaking, unflinching, compulsive new novel from the author of Acts of Desperation
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I’m sure I’m not alone in being slightly anxious that the story was going to be taken up with the death of a young child, but the story doesn’t go down that road. Rather, it’s a book about the secrets that people carry around with them, the private suffering hidden just below the surface. Carmel Growing up on an “estate”(a term often suppressed these days because of negative connotations); unwanted pregnancy and the constraints on freedom to decide in Ireland; mental health. Nolan speaks from the heart. The journalism, and focus on minors committing the most awful crimes is a subject that fascinated Nolan, and is given real tabloid newspaper authenticity by her own experiences in a paper in London.
Like Eliza Clark’s recent novel, Penance, Ordinary Human Failings explores the effects of class on the justice system, and one’s chances in life more broadly, as the Greens face the fallout of a legacy of neglect. Some of the characters evolve; for others, realistically, change is out of reach. “The things you did or failed to do could not be erased by anything, not even love,” Carmel comes to understand in a quiet but powerful conclusion. “But still, they tried. The trying would be the life’s work.” Mia Levitin I started therapy last spring, and was briefly worried that my therapist and I were too demographically similar and might run into each other at a bar – a concern based entirely on his beard and shoe choices. I got around this by aggressively refusing to absorb even the most irrelevant personal information about him. Once, I rhetorically said: “I don’t know what it’s like where you’re from …” and he pleasantly replied: “London!” and I went blank and stared out the window as I tried to forget this personifying detail.It's 1990 in London and Tom Hargreaves has it all: a burgeoning career as a reporter, fierce ambition, and a brisk disregard for the 'peasants' - ordinary people, his readers, easy tabloid fodder. His star looks set to rise when he stumbles across a scoop: a dead child on a London estate, grieving parents loved across the neighbourhood, and the finger of suspicion pointing at one reclusive family of Irish immigrants and 'bad apples': the Greens. One of the things I really liked about this book is that you really feel that some of the characters change. It’s fine for an author to say that a character has developed, but I really felt that Carmel reached an understanding, that there was a growth from her experiences. It felt both natural and satisfying. In the same vein, another of the characters didn’t, and disappeared into his own personal, comfortable sadness, and that felt genuine too.
Ordinary Human Failings is a third person narrative about an ordinary family damaged by a series of very mundane, personal tragedies. The same quality of writing is there but this is a very different, more mature type of book to Acts of Desperation. Megan Nolan might just be one of my new favourite authors. It's always a bit scary reading the follow-up to an author's incredible debut, as was the case here. Acts of Desperation was tender and raw and so intense that I thought it would be hard to measure-up to that, but Ordinary Human Failings certainly did. Maybe measure-up isn't the right word though, because the two books do very different things. Whereas Acts of Desperation feels like an outpouring of vulnerable, overwhelming emotion focusing on the anguish of a woman desperately in love with an unavailable, manipulative man, Ordinary Human Failings felt detached, observant, and empathetic. A large part of that is due to Ordinary Human Failings' third person POV compared to the intense 'I' and 'me' of Acts of Desperation. Ordinary Human Failings also follows a family rather than an individual, giving us long sections where we dive into each family member's separate experience.The character that I most enjoyed is Richie. It’s not easy to write a character who has been so totally overwhelmed by alcohol dependency, and retain some reader empathy. Nolan manages to do this. His primary fear is of loneliness and isolation: