The Amendments by Niamh Mulvey: ‘We are not pro-abortion, we are pro-woman.’

Cover image for The Amendments by Niamh MulveyBack in 2022, I read Niamh Mulvey’s short story collection, Hearts and Bones, one of many strikingly good books I read by Irish women that year, so I was delighted when her first novel popped up on NetGalley. The Amendments follows three generations of women, from the 1970s to 2018 when Nell and her partner Adrienne are expecting their first child.

She looks at herself in the mirror and she reflects that all living things want to survive. And it is such a relief to include herself in that humble category of all living things.

Nell has agreed to attend therapy with Adrienne. The thought of a having a child terrifies her but she’s prepared to do everything she can to keep her partner, beginning to write the story of how she came to be a rackety young woman working as a sous-chef in London with no apparent attachment to her family. She’s the child of a happy marriage, uncomfortable with her indifference to boys as her school friends became obsessed. When she’s introduced to an all-female Catholic group, she finds a warm and welcoming space, singled out by Martina who has dedicated her life to the movement. At an international summer camp in Spain, she falls in love although it’s some time before she recognises it as such, throwing herself into partying when she returns which culminates in drunken sex with a boy. What ensues is a tragedy, made much worse by Martina’s intervention, leaving Nell untethered for years. Her mother, Dolores, remembers her own unhappiness at the rift which opened up when she returned home from Dublin full of what she’d learnt from her feminist friends, and eager to enlighten her mother. By the end of the novel, Nell has found some sort of peace with her past, embracing motherhood and a new and settled life.

She wanted to present these women’s libbers with the conundrum she was struggling with – which is that the women they sought to speak on behalf of often regarded them with distrust.  

Mulvey’s intricately plotted novel shifts perspectives between Dolores and Nell. Rather like the characters in Hearts and Bones, both are women who reach a juncture in their lives when past events come to the fore. Overarching their stories is the theme of reproductive rights, the titular amendments to the country’s constitution decided by referenda, and the waning influence of the Church. Mulvey’s characterisation is strong, neatly confounding stereotypes. Through the experience of Brigid, Dolores and Nell, a carefully nuanced picture emerges of a country which has changed beyond recognition, from the 1970s, when Brigid had no choice but to carry seven children, to her granddaughter’s marriage to Adrienne, the biological mother of their son. A deeply immersive and enjoyable novel, insightful and compassionate.

Picador Books: London 9781529079852 336 pages Hardback (Read via NetGalley)

15 thoughts on “The Amendments by Niamh Mulvey: ‘We are not pro-abortion, we are pro-woman.’”

  1. Yes we have come a long way here in Ireland, but its still a contentious issue. Good to see a new publication dealing with the topic. Its getting good reviews in the Irish papers

  2. I’m again getting Clare O’Dea/Voting Day vibes here as it seems to interweave these women’s personal stories and experiences with broader changes to or attempts to change rights. Sounds one very much worth picking up.

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