I grew up in a village with my sights firmly fixed on escaping to the city which was what attracted me to You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here. That title says it all for those of us who couldn’t wait to get away. Beginning in the 1990s, Frances Macken’s debut is set in Ireland where ten-year-old Evelyn, Katie and Maeve are inseparable, following them into a young adulthood in which each turns out to be not quite what the others expected.
Evelyn is the undoubted boss of this disparate threesome, with Katie second in command and in thrall to her. Maeve trails behind them, mousy and the butt of Evelyn’s snide remarks echoed by Katie, only tolerated because she’s Evelyn’s adopted cousin. Gossip is rife in Glenbruff and opportunities thin on the ground. By the time they’re teenagers, Evelyn’s much-voiced plans to escape are the hope that Katie latches on to, determined that Maeve will be left far behind. Katie wants to be a filmmaker, while Evelyn plans to study fine art despite no evidence of any talent. When a new girl arrives at school, Katie briefly entertains the idea of friendship with her but Pamela’s involvement with Katie’s tentative crush puts the kybosh on that, helped along by Evelyn’s disparagement. Then Pamela disappears without trace, a mystery which will cast a long shadow of suspicion over Glenbruff. When Evelyn’s hopes of art school are dashed, Katie is pulled up short. Once in Dublin, Evelyn’s sneering still echoes in her head, scuppering any other potential friendships. Several years later she’s back in Glenbruff to find that not much has changed and everything has changed.
‘God almighty. Why in the world would I want to be anyone else,‘ Evelyn snorts
Macken’s novel may ring a few very loud bells for some. She captures that desperate small town longing for bright lights and opportunity painfully well, narrating her novel through Katie, torn between her sometimes exasperating idolisation of Evelyn and her need to escape. The friendship between the three is well drawn, excruciatingly so at times as Evelyn struts around the small stage of Glenbruff, bolstering herself with her small humiliations of Maeve and basking in Katie’s regard until her influence begins to wane. Macken has a sharp ear for dialogue, scattering her novel with smartly funny lines.
Look at Mammy, sure, existing with the spectre of the unlived Self.
Katie’s parents were a small joy for me, reminding me of my own in their encouragement of her ambitions. Altogether a well turned out, enjoyable first novel which had me cheering Katie on at its end.
Oneworld Publications: London 2020 9781786077653 288 pages Hardback