The Godmothers by Monica McInerney: Steeped in family dynamics, tangled passions and deeply buried secrets - book review -
As she moved from one small Australian town to another with her funny, loving but troubled mother, Eliza Miller’s one constant in her childhood was the devotion of her two caring godmothers.
And when tragedy strikes, it will one day fall to these two ‘guardian angels’ to fill in the gaps in Eliza’s life and provide answers to the questions which have lain hidden for too many years.
Australian-born, Dublin-based author Monica McInerney breaks our hearts and puts them back together again in a warm, compelling and compassionate story about secrets, lies, hope and sorrow, about families, friendships and love in its many forms.
By her own admission, McInerney likes to write ‘big books about messy families, packed with twists, turns and plenty of comedy’ and The Godmothers delivers on all these counts as readers are taken on an emotional rollercoaster journey from the heat of Australia to chilly Scotland, and onward to Ireland and England.
Along the way, we explore what it means to have a disrupted childhood in which loss, grief and change play major roles, and discover the legacy of past events and memories on a young woman whose life has become plagued by guilt, insecurity and uncertainty.
When Eliza Miller was born at a small country hospital in Australia, her single mother Jeannie told her two best friends, Olivia and Maxie: ‘I don’t want two wishy-washy godmothers. No dolls. No pink dresses. Just lots of adventures. Lots of spoiling. The pair of you like two mighty warriors protecting her at every step.’
And little did Olivia and Maxie know then just how much a part of Eliza’s life they would become in the turbulent years ahead. Because wild, quick-witted, loyal, fun, defiant and reckless Jeannie has one very big problem… she’s an alcoholic.
And so Eliza grows up, loved and adored by her mother but forced to move endlessly between one town and another for the next eleven years, changing schools, coming home to an empty house and clearing away the empty wine bottles, while her mother stacks supermarket shelves.
As she matures, Eliza starts to ask who her father is but her mother laughs away the subject, promising that on the girl’s eighteenth birthday she will reveal all. In the meantime, her two godmothers step in to help, taking Eliza on annual holidays to exciting and exotic locations.
But only weeks before that big birthday, Eliza returns home from a holiday in New Zealand to a terrible tragedy and thirteen years later, she is deliberately living as safely as possible in Melbourne, avoiding close relationships and devoting herself to her time-consuming PA job.
When her life suddenly falls apart again, Eliza receives an unexpected and welcome invitation from her godmothers, now both based in the UK, to attend a wedding and she finds herself leaping into the unknown.
Within a fortnight, Eliza has swapped her predictable routine for life in the middle of her godmother Olivia’s complicated family at a smart hotel in Edinburgh. Here, there is no such thing as an ordinary day and yet, amidst the chaos, Eliza begins to blossom.
She finds herself not only hopeful about the future, but ready to explore her past. Olivia and Maxie have long been waiting for her to ask about her mother’s mysterious life – and about the identity of the father she has never known. But even they are taken by surprise with all that Eliza discovers.
At the heart of this story is the painfully insecure Eliza, and her relationship with the two women whose unwavering friendship, love, support and protection have seen their precious godchild through the best and worst of times.
Steeped in family dynamics, tangled passions and deeply buried secrets, but always leavened by McInerney’s humour and empathy, The Godmothers reminds us that there are two kinds of families… those that we are born into and those that we make for ourselves.
And with a cast of charismatic characters, a touching romance, an intriguing mystery, and some all-too-familiar moral dilemmas, you’ll find yourself laughing, crying and smiling all the way to the final page.
(Welbeck Publishing, hardback, £12.99)