Book review: The Long Hot Summer by Kathleen MacMahon

Monday, June 15, 2015 Permalink

I’d deferred reading The Long Hot Summer by Kathleen MacMahon for over a month. I wasn’t entirely sure I’d enjoy it and worried it’d be a bit too saga-ish for my short attention span. Although once a huge fan of Maeve Binchy (and similar)* I now struggle with novels about generations of families or those which span an extended period of time.

But (once again) I surprised myself by enjoying this easy and beguiling read set in contemporary Ireland.

The Blurb

“Nine Lives. Four Generations. One Family.

The MacEntees are no ordinary family.

Determined to be different to other people, they have carved out a place for themselves in Irish life by the sheer force of their own personalities. But when a series of misfortunes befall them over the course of one long hot summer, even the MacEntees will struggle to make sense of who they are.

Meet the MacEntees:

  • Deirdre, the reluctant matriarch
  • Manus, the eccentric grandfather
  • Alma, the TV star who falls victim to a vicious assault
  • Mick, the European politician on the run from a media storm
  • Liam, the Government minister sacked by an angry electorate
  • Acushla, the model wife with an unhappy secret
  • Connie, the wild child turned exhausted young mother
  • Nora, the idealist, missing somewhere in the Middle East
  • And Macdara, the fragile and gentle soul of the family.

As the MacEntees do battle with their misfortunes, Deirdre is planning a family party for her 80th birthday, and with it one final, shocking surprise.”

the long hot summer

My thoughts

Interestingly, although the book opens with Deirdre, she was probably the character I felt I knew least in this new release by MacMahon. Perhaps I wasn’t yet sufficiently engaged, or possibly it was an age thing. Having said that, she’s not meant to be a particularly likeable character and confesses to being a distant mother; seemingly blaming her children and former husband for a range of ills in her life.

On the other hand I really enjoyed getting to know her daughters, Alma and Acushla and granddaughters, Connie and Nora. All are strong complex characters and we meet them at a time when they’re are confronted with major life challenges. MacMahon draws us in so we can relate to what they’re going through: we travel on that journey with them, emerging on the other side with understanding and respect.

In terms of the plot, there’s no story arc per se. Instead we view (or better still, share) a series of events over a period of time which ultimately draws the family together in ways they least expect.

As an aside, MacMahon also touches on international and national events and issues and deftly deals with homosexuality and mental illness** via Manus and his partner Sam. Thankfully she does this with little fanfare. (I believe such stories should be part of our everyday rhetoric rather than treated as anomalies.) #rantover

The Long Hot Summer by Kathleen MacMahon was released in Australia via Hachette on 26 May 2015.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.

* I said the same thing about Stephen King the other day and realise my taste has changed over the years. Sometime between my King and Binchy days I also lapped up stories of spies and espionage and inhaled everything Len Deighton, Robert Ludlum, John LeCarre and David Morrell wrote. And yet it’s years since I’ve read anything similar.

** Having said that I struggled to understand Sam’s illness (and that of Macdara to a lesser extent). I wondered if MacMahon was avoiding ‘labels’ on purpose.

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