Catherine O’Flynn’s new novel comes with the kind of bright and breezy jacket that makes you want to pick it up plus a recommendation from Jonathan Coe praising her writing to the skies. Expectations were high, then, for this story of a father and son viewing each others’ lives uncomprehendingly across the chasm of misunderstandings, assumptions and puzzlement that so often bedevils family relationships.
Dermot is on his way to pay his son Eamonn a surprise visit. Recently widowed, it’s the first time that he’s left the country. Eamonn has bought an apartment in Spain with his partner Laura. They had planned to work remotely at their editing jobs and Eamonn was to pursue his long cherished dream of writing a novel. They’ve sunk all their money into the apartment at Lomaverde, cunningly marketed as a refuge for artists and writers but, with the Spanish property bubble burst, the development remains unfinished only a quarter of it filled with ex-pats, living as many ex-pats do, having little or nothing to do with the locals, often missing home but determined not to say so. By the time Dermot arrives, Eamonn has sunk into self-absorbed disillusion and Laura has jumped ship which Eamonn frantically tries to hide.
O’Flynn is a wonderfully acute social observer. Her writing is both affectionately comic and poignant, spiked with the occasional satisfyingly well-aimed barb. Grasping property developers Becca and Ian are blithely unaware of their own status when muttering darkly about immigrants while retirees Jean and David are reduced to Skyping their beloved grandchildren, gazing at them as they play often unaware that their grandparents are still online. When Dermot arrives, fresh blood is scented and a round of get-togethers is arranged much to Eamonn’s horror. As father and son’s stories unfold, it’s clear that neither knows the other at all. Dermot, thought by Eamonn to be inexperienced and naïve, is far more of the world and open to it than his son, thoroughly mired in his own introspection. Gradually, they come to know each other as adults, learning about each others’ lives and overturning long-held misconceptions. All ends very satisfyingly with loose ends tied neatly in and new lives begun. Mr Lynch’s Holiday is an absolute delight – a novel with heart and humour. How lovely it would be if all family difficulties were resolved so beautifully.