“The Year that Changed Everything”, a novel by Irish author Cathy Kelly, is set in contemporary Ireland. At the beginning of the novel, we are introduced to our three female protagonists (Callie, Sam and Ginger), who are turning fifty, forty and thirty respectively. However, unexpected and in two cases unwelcome surprises greet them on this significant day.
At Callie’s ostentatious birthday party in her palatial Dublin home, there is a knock on the door, followed by the entrance of the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation. They are wanting to arrest Callie’s businessman husband Jason, and to search the house. Callie’s birthday wish in the midst of all this unwanted havoc ends up becoming “I wish my family were here. I wish my mother was here”.
On Sam’s fortieth birthday, she goes into labor, and has her much longed for first child called India. Sam is ecstatic to finally be a mum after years of IVF and infertility problems, however on the day of India’s birth, she doubts herself and her mothering abilities to the core. Sam’s birthday wish is “Please let me learn how to be a good mother. Please”.
Ginger, a journalist with Caraval Media, comes across at work as savvy and fiesty. In her private life, however, she perceives herself to have a weight problem and is sad that she has never had a boyfriend. On her thirtieth birthday, she is at her friend Liza’s wedding reception, where she is the reluctantly gaudily dressed bridesmaid. In a toilet cubicle, she overhears Liza desultory betray Ginger by vehemently bad mouthing Ginger and running her down to the other bridesmaid, Charlene. Fleeing to her hotel room to cry her eyes out, Ginger feels herself to be having the worst birthday in Dublin. Her heartbreakingly earnest birthday wish is “I wish that next year everything in my life could be totally different”.
In the course of the ensuing storyline, we follow Callie, her fourteen year old daughter Poppy, Sam and Ginger on a searingly painful year for them all; albeit one embedded with personal growth and achievement for them.
This book encompasses the themes of drug addiction, post natal depression and body image issues. These subjects are covered realistically, however but ultimately with hope that these problems can be triumphantly overcome. In this novel, you will barrack for Callie, Ginger and Sam; three women whose life circumstances are forever changed on their birthdays on a Saturday in June, but who in the following year, as we accompany them through their many trials and tribulations, emerge stronger, wiser and indeed happier.
I recommend this book. It is perfect for curling up with on a rainy Sunday afternoon, with a mug of hot chocolate in one’s hand.