Review: The Amusements by Aingeala FlanneryPublished 26/10/2022
Title: The Amusements
Author: Aingeala Flannery
Reviewer: Róisín Russell
Guideline Price: €15.95
Publication date: 23 June 2022
The Amusements (Sandycove) by Aingeala Flannery is a collection of loosely interlinked stories capturing small-town life; but it’s not just any town. Tramore in Ireland’s Sunny South East, for most Irish readers, conjures up childhood memories of sand, waves, picnic baskets, melting ice-cream, spinning fair-rides and shouts of excitement carried on the wind. Here, Flannery pulls back from that fun-filled vision to explore the lives playing out behind-the-scenes, day-to-day, and away from the fun. The collection unfolds with a focus on a couple of key characters, shining a light on their lives as children and later as adults, capturing this sense of time passing and exploring the evolution of friendships, and how far we can end up from where we started. The stories are told from various perspectives, both those who settled in the town and those who have moved away but invariably return at some point. The beauty of collections like these is their scope for capturing an intimate yet expansive view of community life. Flannery vividly captures the breadth of life stories playing out at any given time in a small community, while exploring the reality of how these stories will, even if only momentarily, weave in and out of each other.
A broad and varied cast of characters appear in this novel; from the local caravan park owner who develops an infatuation and the teen mum who return years later, to the jaded public health nurse and the grouchy old lady who develops an unlikely friendship with a newcomer that is to take an unfortunate twist. Family life is explored in all its tensions, mundanity and small pleasures; there are stories of love, grief and resentment, while friendships, relationships and the roles we play in our community are also delved into. As the lens shifts from one hand to another, we see the same characters from their own perspective and then as seen by others; highlighting the subjectivity of perspective and memory. Tension between conservative tendencies in small towns, and the hidden desires of their inhabitants recurs in several of the stories, and Flannery has a wonderful way of capturing the boisterous narrative of quirky characters and their idiosyncratic manners of talk. Her writing is full of wit, heart and just a dash of dark humour, beautifully capturing the quirks and suffocation of small town life, and the big dreams of young people that inevitably involve leaving said small town. Helen Grant and Stella Swaine, polar opposites but temporarily inseparable, lie at the heart of this collection, and their lives unfold in a flash before our eyes, eventually parting ways, only to cross paths again years later. Flannery deftly captures the beauty and messiness of young friendships, as well as the complexities of adolescence, in particular of being a girl in a small town. A rich and highly enjoyable read from a dynamic voice.
Hear Aingeala Flannery discuss her novel, and more, at our Emerging Authors event at Dublin Book Festival 2022 on Sunday November 13th – TICKETS
If you haven’t read this yet, why not pick up a copy from The Gutter Bookshop before the event – AVAILABLE HERE