#SheReviews Sisterhood By Cathy Kelly

April 26, 2024

Human relationships are, at-times, the most complicated and non-transparent of beasts. Abuse, manipulation and even betrayal may occur. Other times, the fine webs of human connections encapsulate the noblest of interactions, and are full of unending decency, loyalty, love and kindness. Family relationships can exhibit, in their inner fabric, any of these qualities or foibles. (Hopefully, though, family kinships are peacefully rolling waves of love and compassion).

Such timely observances are beautifully and eloquently discussed in stellar and prolific Irish author, Cathy Kelly’s, latest soul-enriching novel, Sisterhood.

Our novel takes place in part in the sublimely atmospheric and picturesque coastal enclave, Whitehaven Beach, on the ethereally wild west coast of Ireland, on the icy Atlantic ocean. In addition to this we are transported to the vibrantly sunny and dreamy Sicily in Italy (down the south of Italy). More specifically, the sun-drenched and casually lazy island of Ortigia, set amidst the turquoise, sparkling Mediterranean. We also spend some time in Dublin.

Our chief protagonist is Lou, a fifty year old wife (to her absent-minded Engineering Professor husband, Ned) and mother to the loyal and fiercely loving, Emily (a twenty year old university student).

Lou suffers in silence form the “Barking Dog” (high anxiety) and takes anti-depressants. Lou’s internal anguish is largely hidden from others.

Lou and her family reside in Whitehaven, where Lou works tirelessly for a floristry business, Blossom.

Lou’s bosses at Blossom, Oszkar and Bettina, most definitely take Lou for granted, and she is not appreciated at all.

In fact, Lou is also a “doormat” in her unquestioningly subservient relationship with her domineering and demanding mother, Lillian.

Lillian is a flamboyant artist who gets Lou to endlessly come around to her house in Whitehaven and clean for her. Heartbreakingly, Lou’s husband, Ned, also takes Lou for granted. His biggest faux pas being when he forgets to buy Lou a present for her fiftieth birthday.

Lou’s father, Bob (now deceased), was a pharmacist in Whitehaven, his own father having been the town’s long-serving and kind doctor. Bob’s sister, Gloria, is a generously loving and loyal aunt to Lou. Lou feels nurtured and taken care of by Gloria, in a way she is not in some of her key relationships in life.

Lou misses her best friend, Mim (who has died) and talks to her and thinks of her constantly. Mim was very wise, and Lou remembers Mim’s wise words she spoke, such as “If you can’t have a good day, just have a day. Get by”.

Toni (forty-three years old), Lou’s fabulously successful (career-wise) younger sister (Toni is a “TV star extraordinaire”, having her own talk-show in Dublin) lives in a luxuriously modern and ostentatious house in Dublin. Married to Toni is the somewhat successful and charismatic actor of the stage and screen (he shines in his Shakespearean roles), Oliver.

Lou’s life’s trajectory is unwelcomingly and irreversibly altered forever when the majorly inebriated and outspoken Lillian drops a metaphorical grenade at Lou’s flashy fiftieth birthday celebrations in Whitehaven, on an otherwise unassuming Friday night. Lillian unceremoniously divulges to Lou (and all present at the party) a secret pertaining to Lou’s life that both shocks and wounds the people pleasing Lou.

Toni is simultaneously trying to deal and cope with her own fiery crisis. Oliver, a gambling addict, has lost all their money. A vast sum that Toni has worked so hard to accumulate.

The fallout from Lillian’s exposed secret, Lou’s shock and bewilderment and Toni’s torment, in addition to Toni and Lou’s respective pain, leads Lou and Toni on a transformative journey to Sicily, on the heavenly and breathtaking island of Ortigia.

Who is the mysterious and hospitable Angelo Mulraney? What could the liberally arty Lillian have possibly uncaringly ‘blurted out’ at poor Lou’s party that has caused the dutiful Lou to ‘take off’ like a ‘scalded cat’ to Sicily with Toni?

Who is the sensitive Trinity, the twenty-three year old hitchhiker that Lou and Toni pick up?

Will Lou go back to Ned, after his seeming indifference to her?

Can Toni ever forgive Oliver for losing her fortune? Can Toni ever get any of her money back?

Will Lou go back to work at Blossom, or tell them where to go?

Can Lou ever stand up for herself when it comes to Lillian, Ned and her work bosses? Or is Lou always going to be taken advantage of?

Can Sicily work it’s magic in Lou’s heart, soul and psyche the way she earnestly wants it to?

Cathy has written a wonderfully evocative story of distant, yet at the same time partly familiar, countries and locations that I found myself swooning over. Who wouldn’t like to be enraptured by the hauntingly beautiful Irish coast and the balmy blissfulness of Sicily?

Sisterhood overflows with intelligence, wisdom, warmth and kindness. You will fall in love with Cathy’s lovingly descriptive characters, such as the brave Lou and the adventurous Toni, and the wonderful locations described.

Themes of mental health, psychological abuse, family dynamics and betrayal are expertly examined in this sterling novel.

Bravo Cathy! You have knocked it out of the ballpark with this one. Cathy’s books are always a thoughtful balm for the soul. Whilst some heavy topics are explored in the novel, bright and uplifting light ultimately shines through.

I loved Sisterhood, and I’ll be lining up to read whatever Cathy writes next!

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