Everyone has or should have, a friend like Iris, the one that shakes them out of their complacency, the one who remembers you were made for better things and that time is simply precious.
So are you ready for a Thelma and Louise, Irish style? But instead of Brad Pitt in the back seat, it's your Alzheimer's struck Dad, because this is an Irish story and that's what happens in an Irish story isn't it?
Read more: Baileys launches ‘Reclaim Her Name’ campaign
Ciara Geraghty is the best selling author of seven novels and her latest is a film waiting to happen. Rules of the Road, Geraghty's latest book, is funny, dark, and sometimes quietly devastating, ticking all the boxes of a surefire bestseller.
What it also is, is unputdownable. Geraghty is such a gifted storyteller that it's almost magic. From the opening scene, she has the story down, characters, plot, and narration down. There's plenty of subtlety too between all the shenanigans, and boy are there are some shenanigans.
'Rules Of The Road' starts with the world-class worrier Terry becoming anxious about the whereabouts of her glamorous, direct, and MS stricken friend Iris. It soon becomes clear that Iris has decided to end it all on a one way trip to Switzerland where people who have reached the end of their rope due to a progressively debilitating disease can legally end their lives.
Not so fast pleads Terry, you have to reconsider. But it turns out that Terry has plenty to reconsider too. And before you can say who's helping who you're reading a love letter to the power of female friendship that will rivet you from the opening page.
“I was definitely in interested in writing about female relationships,” Geraghty tells IrishCentral. “And as an older woman, I realized just how incredibly important those relationships are in my life. They're incredibly strong, like the relationships I have with my mother and my sister. And then I have lots of other women, friends in different areas of my life."
“So even though it's not a love story in the traditional sense, you know it's not boy meets girl which my agent would love me to write over and over again, it is a love story between two women really. And I loved the idea that they were going to be two incredibly different kinds of women, who in spite of all of their differences turn out to be really wonderful friends and very much in each other's corner. And so I guess that's where I was coming from with the writing of the book.”
Eugene, the father in the book who is suffering from dementia, becomes an unwitting partner in the road trip the two women take when Terry has no choice but join Iris on her voyage. That means pathos and humor and it's drawn from Geraghty's own experience of caring for her Alzheimer's hit father.
Alzheimer's is, as anyone who has cared for someone suffering from it, as if the person you loved gets body-snatched and you're left with just echoes of the person he or she used to be, they're still the same person, but they're gone. It's heartbreaking in a way few things are in life.
“He talked like my dad, he still had that same laugh and that same great smile, but it was as if he'd had a complete personality transplant and in some ways that was remarkable because he became really mild-mannered and deeply affectionate. He always was affectionate, but he was much more so with dementia. But my own perception of who he was was completely changed. Like how he was this like teetotaler, who never smoked. You know, there were moments of humor and but it is a dark subject, and in the book, I do like to use humor to lighten the mood a little bit.”
The forward propulsion of the story is Iris, who's very dramatic in what she's deciding to do and it's not something that most people could ever follow through on Geraghty says: “I would be in awe of that kind of bravery. I'm much more a Terry character than an Iris character. Iris already knows exactly who she is, she knows exactly what she wants, she just goes right ahead and gets it. She's that kind of a woman. Whereas the main character is Terry is very, very unsure of herself as a person. In fact, it's not even that she's unsure it's that she's just not very familiar with herself because she spent her entire life really as a carer, she and her mother had quite the codependent relationship.”
Looking for Irish book recommendations or to meet with others who share your love for Irish literature? Join IrishCentral’s Book Club on Facebook and enjoy our book-loving community.
After her mother passes Terry looks after her father until she can't any longer and puts him into a nursing home, which she feels profoundly guilty about. So she's spent her entire life caring for other people and minding other people to the detriment of her own sense of self-worth. I think Iris' decision to do what she does propels Terry into a place where she is now questioning everything about her own life because she sees her faintly colored life compared to Iris' glaring Technicolor one and she sees the absences in her own life and what she's missing out on.”
The two characters meeting and hitching their wagons together helped Geraghty write Terry's narrative arc. “Her transformation had to be something very huge because for a character like Terry, it needs to be huge or else nothing is ever going to change for her. I know so many characters like her and I'm sure you do as well.
They're in their worlds and nothing is going to change it unless something massive like a pandemic comes along, you know. Something to jerk you awake almost. And so Iris' journey jerks Terry awake. And it's out of her character to join Terry just on the spur of the moment, you know, to take a boat to England and drag her poor unsuspecting father along with her, do you know what I mean?”
It's amazing how often some of us stand in the shadow of a more vivid person who can sort of challenge us, push us outside of our comfort zone, and reminds us of our own capacities. It's an act of friendship, actually.
“I imagine if Iris hadn't done what she does then Terry would still be living there in Sutton, in her four-bedroom semi-detached, making Brendan's dinners and listening to him talking about his golf game.”
Is there anything better than watching someone finally step into themselves, to really become who they can be, who their potential allows them to be? Like what's better than that?
“I don't think there's anything as good,” Geraghty agrees. “I mean, I felt so exhilarated when I was writing it, I really, really did. I laughed out loud a lot. I mean, the novel does deal with some dark issues, but I did want it to be this great explosion of joy and love as well. And this kind of the life-affirming story of finding yourself, but in a real way that felt so authentic, I suppose that's what I was looking for, just a real celebration of life, you know?”
Read more: A Derry Girls book is on the way!