Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Sunday, 27 May 2012

This is How it Ends - Kathleen MacMahon

'There existed for both of them the possibility of happiness.'

Bruno has travelled to Ireland from America to try and find distant cousins there, a journey he had promised to make over thirty years ago. He is also trying to escape from the global financial crisis, having been a direct victim of it, losing his job in finance with Lehman Brothers. Addie is temporarily staying with her father Hugh, a surgeon nearing retirement, whilst he recovers from two broken wrists. It becomes evident that Hugh is also in the midst of being sued due to certain actions at work. Her sister Della and husband Simon live nearby with their four daughters. Addie is single, work for her as an architect seems to have dried up, and her most beloved companion in life is her loyal dog, Lola. Della and Addie lost their mother when they were young children.

The novel is set in the run-up to, and after, the American Presidential elections of 2008, alongside which is the backdrop of the economic recession affecting the world. Bruno arrives in Dublin with a month to go until the election, and three weeks after losing his job. Bruno, like many, is desperate for Obama to win and feels this would bring hope for the future, he is passionate about it. If McCain wins, Bruno vows not to return to the USA. Bruno contacts Hugh and Addie by telephone, but his messages are not returned, as neither of them feels inclined to deal with him. But after meeting on the beach one day, things will never be the same for Bruno and Addie.

Bruno and Addie meet and find a totally unexpected, life-changing happiness and love together, the like of which they both feel they have never known before. Bruno is nearly 50 and Addie is 38. There is so much joy between them. Bruno brings a lightness that brightens and opens up Addie's life. 'All her life Addie has had the feeling that there's a black cloud following her around.' There is a wonderful, eye-opening moment for Bruno when he looks at the tracks listed on Addie's iPod, the music that accompanies her day, and realises 'the way she had her life story set up, it was a weepie'. He determines from then on he is going to turn it 'into a feel-good movie.' As for himself, 'he felt like he'd woken up from a bad dream and suddenly everything was OK in the world.'

I loved Addie, with her troubles and imperfections, riddled with self-doubt and beset by loneliness, and I loved Lola. The strong bond between them really came across. Addie is lonely, taking long walks with Lola on the beach right by their home, where 'she can scream if she wants to and sometimes she does...She can cry hot tears of self-pity...Addie has a tricky head, she has a tendency to melancholy....It can be a full-time job, dealing with all the things that come bubbling up in her head.' Her escapes from what she has had to deal with in life are walking and swimming. Bruno makes a huge difference to her days, bringing about a transformation, with his enthusiasm and zest for life, and for exploring Ireland, and his insistence on sharing his love of Bruce Springsteen songs. 

This debut novel is a veritable emotional rollercoaster with joyous highs, devastating lows, and many poignant moments in between. There is so much happiness, yet there is tragedy, sadness, family secrets and regret. If you're looking for a bittersweet, charming love story that will make you smile, but that may also leave you in tears, with well-drawn characters you may grow attached to, then read this book.

I found that I engaged with and liked the characters, Addie most of all, and I found the love that grew between her and Bruno was charmingly depicted, such an honesty and innocence that they share. I also grew to care about Hugh despite his cantankerous nature; he's an old-fashioned man in a modern world. The characters felt very real, and their stories genuine. There is a gentle humour in places, - I loved the little part about the etiquette amongst dog owners, so true! - and there is a truthfulness about relationships. There is an acute awareness of the passing of time and how moments can seem both days away and yet also a lifetime away.

This is a very moving novel from Kathleen MacMahon. I was left a bit heartbroken on finishing it, to be honest, because of how I'd grown to care for certain of the characters. I can't say more as it'll spoil it. But you'll know why when you read it. This book also has a beautiful, and for me quite magical, cover design.

Published on 24th May 2012 by Sphere.

Thank you to the publisher for kindly sending me a proof copy to read and give an honest review.



  1. Great review this book sounds really good x

  2. Thanks for commenting. It's a moving read. x

  3. Great review Lindsay, sounds like a touching book!


  4. It sounds like something I have to read. Thanks for the great review.

    1. Thanks for your kind comments Barbara. x


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