Thursday, 24 November 2011

Review: Breakfast at Darcy's by Ali McNamara

When Darcy McCall loses her beloved Aunt Molly, she doesn't expect any sort of inheritance - let alone a small island. Located off the west coast of Ireland, Tara hasn't been lived on for years, but according to Molly's will Darcy must stay there for twelve months in order to fully inherit, and she needs to persuade a village full of people to settle there, too. Darcy has to leave behind her independent city life and swap stylish heels for muddy wellies. Between sorting everything from the plumbing to the pub, Darcy meets confident Conor and ever-grumpy Dermot - but who will make her feel really at home?

‘From Notting Hill with Love… Actually’ was a true gem of a debut at the end of 2010 from Ali McNamara. It remains the best chick lit I have ever read – smart, funny, brilliantly written with a fabulously unique twist, and with beautifully swoon worthy romance.
As a result ‘Breakfast at Darcy’s’ – McNamara’s second novel, was always going to have to work incredibly hard to live up to her first.

And it comes so very close to perfection. Don’t get me wrong, it is a stunning book; truly brilliant romance, brilliant storytelling and some humour that had me laughing out loud. There were just a couple of things that niggled at me because I had such high expectations – but I’ll get to those in a moment, let’s talk about the awesome stuff first.

Darcy – talk about character growth throughout a novel! She starts off as someone completely hidden behind this persona of clothes and make up she’s created for herself, completely obsessed with the labels she’s wearing and how much of a bargain they were – constantly trying to justify her increasing mountain of debt to herself. But when she gets to Tara, everything changes. She shrugs off the person she was pretending to be and lets her true self shine through and she’s so strong and capable, and completely loveable. I loved watching her transformation from this slightly remote person into a heroine I could identify with, who took everything that was thrown at her and shook it firmly and told it to behave.

Dermot, oh my. This goes for Conor as well, but Dermot was really my favourite of the two boys. McNamara really knows how to create believable, flawed but loveable men that you just want to pull into a great big hug (or alternatively slap at some moments...) She really captures the romance, from the tiny little gestures right down to the overblown romantic ones, her romances are one of the big highlights of the novels for me, they're fabulous, blush worthy, awesomeness.

Whilst the set-up is all really good, the novel really gets going as soon as they get to Tara, she really is the centre of the book. Everyone comes together and develops and changes and bonds, and I could have quite happily read another thousand odd pages on life of the island, both during that year and beyond it. It was a brilliantly written place that completely drew me in and made me feel safe and comfortable and completely at home. Hell, I finished the book and debated upping sticks and moving to a remote island myself, it certainly seems the way to go. And if you can promise me an experience like Darcy’s I will be there like a shot.

I would have liked to see more of the islanders, I felt that we didn’t get to see them as individuals very much, it was more of a collective. For example, apart from the odd line and a tiny bit of description from Darcy’s perspective I didn’t feel like I knew any of them that were chosen to come and live on Tara apart from Niall, Conor, Dermot and Roxi. Whilst I liked the community spirit that definitely comes through, I wanted to learn a little more about the individuals and why they wanted to come to the island, it’s quite an extreme move, and I didn’t feel like they were really fleshed out without some of the backstory.

I did have a couple of problems with some aspects of the book. Firstly the title, which I know is probably just me personally. After the brilliant ‘From Notting Hill with Love… Actually’ I was expecting the title to mean more to the book. Aside from the obvious play on ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ which is referenced briefly in the book, the title remained a little bit random for me, and I kind of expected it to have more relationship with the novel.

Secondly, the romance. We all know in chick lit that our heroine is going to have two yummy boys to  choose from (and potentially make out with) and that only one will turn out to be her one true love. McNamara uses this brilliantly, but I felt a little bit cheated out of the romance. Yes Darcy and her OTL have a few moments of really breathless anticipation, and they grow into friends in a way that most books miss out in the relationship process, but then it suddenly turns into ‘hey we’re in love!’ Where is the kissing? Where is the moment? I felt a bit cheated out of that, and as a result was left a little bit disgruntled, despite the gorgeousness of the final moment.

I also wished we could have had a bit more development of Darcy’s backstory. There’s a lot of her suppressing memories throughout the book, and forgetting parts of her childhood, and whilst there is a revelation of sorts part way through, I wanted something more, some moment where we find out more about her childhood and everything she’s fought down.
On the plus side I loved the reminiscing about Aunt Molly. I loved finding out more about her character despite her death, and she becomes almost part of Tara, an entity in her own right that we learn about and remember through Darcy.

But my few problems with it are just me being picky because McNamara’s writing is so good. Everything else is so deliciously brilliant that the personal niggles fade into the background and it remains a brilliant book, one you can sink into and really appreciate the writing, the characters, the humour and fabulous plot. McNamara marked herself as one to watch with her d├ębut, and she’s cemented her status with ‘Breakfast at Darcy’s’.

1 comment:

  1. The sense of place in this book is evocative. The characters are believable and the mystery well embedded in the tale.