After early scenes that leave you reeling, That Girl fairly races away, leaving the reader completely hooked on the fates of Lara, Noreen, and Hanna (who becomes Anna). Each has their own history. Each their own reason for fleeing Ireland and trying to start over again. Sixties London seems the perfect place to disappear.
Kerrigan’s fast-moving novel turns into a see-sawing affair, light one moment, dark the next, so addictive it makes you want to read it the way a starving cat devours its first meal in days – in one gulp.
But there is much to stop and enjoy in That Girl. The writing, with its lovely Irish cadence. The fun of female friendship, and how it can see you through the worst of times better than many marriages. The delicious idea of re-inventing yourself. Can you ever truly escape yourself? Does running away solve anything? Depends on what you’re running from, maybe?
For Lara, Noreen and Hannah (Anna), country bumpkins all, sixties London is both liberating and terrifying. There’s the Beatles and Rolling Stones, mini-skirts, revolution, David Bowie and the pill. No more mammy looking over their shoulder or the tittle-tattle of nosey neighbours. Here, anything is possible. (And no-one back home will know a thing). But there is a price to pay for freedom.
In matters of love, Kerrigan proves an astute mapper of the human heart. Here’s the set-up: Lara has always loved Matthew. When Matthew confesses that he loves God more and is becoming a priest, heartbroken Lara flees to London. Matthew’s twin sister is Noreen, who is Lara’s oldest friend. Noreen is engaged to be married to boring John. As much as she loves him, Noreen decides she wants some fun before she settles down and cancels the wedding to hightail it off to join Lara in London. Damaged Hanna, running away from great trauma, is desperate to reinvent herself in London. Hence the name-change to Anna.
More by chance than by design, Lara and Noreen, land jobs in a King’s Road strip joint where all the waitresses wear skimpy outfits. Hanna works in a café across the road but shares a flat with them. They don’t know it but they’re working for a gangland boss, putting them in the orbit of some questionable characters with names like Coleman (as in mustard), Ironing Board (don’t ask) and Handsome.
That Girl is a powerful rollercoaster of a story with a gripping finale (wow!) when the past catches up and lives unravel – but not in the way you expect. The only regret is that her terrific novel has to end at all.
Another reason not to rush through it.
Kate Kerrigan is a New York Times bestselling author whose novels have been translated into fifteen languages. Kerrigan, whose real name is Morag Prunty, began her career as an editor and journalist, editing many of Britain’s most successful young women’s magazines before returning to her native Ireland in the 1990s to edit Irish Tatler. Her novels include Recipes For A Perfect Marriage and The Dress.
The Miracle of Grace, was also turned into a screenplay, but it was her Ellis Island Trilogy, featuring feisty heroine Ellie Hogan, that made her a New York Times bestseller. The Lost Garden and The Dress – shortlisted at Irish Book Awards – followed to critical acclaim. Was Only Ever You won a RONA. Kate has a loyal following of readers in the U.K, Ireland, the U.S. and, Mayo on the Wild Atlantic Way. She lives in a house overlooking the sea with her artist husband, Niall Kerrigan, and their two young sons, Leo and Tom. Kate writes every day in a small cottage in her mother’s back garden, in the nearby town of Ballina. She documents her life in a weekly column for the Irish Mail, and on the iconic Irish radio programme, Sunday Miscellany.