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The Coast Road by Alan Murrin review – love and the limitations placed on women

The Coast Road by Alan Murrin review – love and the limitations placed on women

Alan Murrin’s assured debut is about the claustrophobia and cruelties of small town life. Set in County Donegal in 1994, when divorce was still illegal in Ireland, The Coast Road focuses on three women trapped by marriage.

Colette Crowley, a bohemian poet, left her husband, Shaun, and three sons after an affair with a married man in Dublin. At the start of the novel, she returns home, the relationship over, but Shaun refuses to let her visit their youngest child, who is still at school. She rents the Mullen family’s rundown cottage on the desolate coast road and tries to make ends meet by running creative writing workshops. Downtrodden Dolores Mullen is pregnant with her fourth child, while her philandering husband, Donal, watches their new neighbour with a predator’s eyes.

Colette strikes up a friendship with Izzy Keaveney, who has her own problems with her controlling politician husband, James. Colette enlists Izzy’s help to see her child. But when Shaun finds out, his vindictive response affects them all.

Murrin’s novel is immaculately crafted, his characterisation beautifully nuanced. It’s a world the Irish-born author clearly knows well and he gets under the skin of his three female characters, their disappointments and vulnerability. The men are bullies, while fear of scandal keeps the women in check. Father Brian, Izzy’s confidant and one of the few likable male characters, is treated with suspicion by James. As Izzy observes: “You can’t even be friends with a priest but they think you’re sleeping with him.”

Gossip damages reputations and intimacy, but Murrin’s scrutiny of the community’s prejudice is shot through with humour. After the town butcher, Michael Breslin, makes his way to Colette’s house one drunken evening, the incident is pored over, with Colette cast as the scarlet woman. Izzy admonishes one local for her naivety: “You believe … Colette let that obese eejit climb up on top of her?”

Murrin writes perceptively about love, desire and the limitations placed on women. While the denouement is melodramatic, this is a compelling, compassionate page-turner.

Source: theguardian.com