Happiness

Book of the week : Mr Lynch’s Holiday - Catherine O’Flynn

Catherine O’Flynn’s third novel, Mr Lynch’s Holiday, concerns a father and son, Dermot and Eamonn respectively. Eamonn upped sticks with his girlfriend Laura and moved to Spain, specifically an exciting out of the way development on the coast called Lomaverde; only the economy being what it is, the development stalled, the builders threw down their tools and Eamonn and Laura found themselves surrounded by slightly embittered retirees, potentially threatening locals and hordes of cats

Eamonn’s desire to leave England came from that familiar boredom with the petty snobbisms and pointless hatreds of middle-class urban life: “the promise of sitting in a bar and not being able to extrapolate an entire way of life from someone’s choice of shoe”. But the joy of immersion in a foreign culture can never last, and things go sour even before familiarity has the chance to breed contempt. On the day that his father turns up (unexpectedly - he had written to his son but Eamonn couldn’t be bothered to open the letter,) to see for himself his son’s adopted paradise, Laura has left him, his work is failing and his car has given up on him. Eamonn wants to go home, but can’t admit it to Dermot, a positive, active man who immediately strikes up friendships with the fellow residents who Eamonn had dismissed as awful and naff

The expats are nervous, fretful and fearful of each other, of the Spaniards who resent them and of mysterious goings on in the night. Drowning themselves in alcohol and frying themselves at barbecues, matters go from bad to worse when they discover the development might have been built on the site of a mass grave dating from the horrors of Franco’s regime. No wonder the natives are so mad!

It takes a real talent to take circumstances such as these and turn them into a novel of such wisdom and charm but Catherine O’Flynn manages it

What follows is a gentle comedy - what could be described as wry comedy in that it feels imbued by equally gentle sadness: Dermot coming to be known to the other residents of Lomaverde, father and son gently sparring (one of the best scenes in the novel occurs when the residents call a meeting and both father and son attempt to edge out of it, only to push each other in), life lived considered and reflected upon (as it sometimes is on a holiday) amidst flashbacks to earlier points in both Dermot and Eamonn’s past (not all of which, it should be said, feel completely pertinent, but their presence in the novel helps maintain the gentleness of pace)In some respects, not a huge amount happens in My Lynch’s Holiday. Father and son talk a bit, walk a bit, attend a barbecue, go for a swim. Unlike O’Flynn’s debut, What was Lost, where tragedy remained hard and current years after the fact, this novel concerns people who have dealt with tragedy, absorbed tragedy, know that tragedy is a part of life, get on with things nevertheless. Which isn’t to say that the pain in Mr Lynch’s Holidayisn’t acute (a Facebook status pierces Eamonn and the sting leaps from the page – we have all of us, at some point, felt the pang of a former loved one going about their new life sans you), more that the characters are quick to resort to whatever coping technique gets them through the day

It’s a simple story but, thanks to a balance of humour and pathos, a delightful one. The dialogue is perfectly pitched, the characters cliché-free (some achievement, considering they are mostly that type of show-offy expat we think we know so well), and every description of a weed growing through damp concrete or the things Eamonn misses about England (“John Humphrys, Pudsey Bear, smug young men with beards”) gives O’Flynn’s writing vivacity. Yes, there are earnest backstories about the Spanish Civil War and Irish economic migration, but what is most meaningful about this is that it is a rare love story between a father and a son

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August 12, 2013

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