You Are Here by David Nicholls

Many readers will be familiar with the best-selling One Day. With sales of more than five million copies, it has since become a major success on Netflix. The book’s author, David Nicholls, had a dream start to his publishing career when his debut, Starter For Ten, emerged in 2003. Lovers of One Day will be keen to read his latest novel, You Are Here, and they certainly will not be disappointed. A midlife tale of redemption, the book centres on Michael and Marnie, telling their stories in alternate narratives. Michael is in his early forties, a geography teacher from York, who decides to walk 200 miles across Britain to try to forget about his recent divorce.

The storyline

A close friend, Cleo, feels that it would be best to get a few friends together to keep him company for the first few days. This includes Marnie, a London-based divorcee friend of Cleo, whose life has become tedious and lonely. Initially, Marnie, who sees this expedition as a “potentially awful experience”, sets her cap at the good-looking Conrad.

However, Marnie is disappointed when she discovers that Conrad is not the brightest, does not like books, and has a passion for Formula One – very much at odds with her own loves.

Meanwhile, she fails to notice Michael’s appeal, not seeing beyond the description of him possessing “a low voice, slight accent, a jumper, beard and scruffy hair that might all have been home-knitted.”

As the walk unfolds, and histories are revealed, many of them unremarkable, people start to return home, eventually leaving us with just Michael and Marnie. As they trek through many spectacular landscapes, beautifully painted by the author, a sexual chemistry unfolds.

Their story is familiar, in some ways ordinary, just two damaged people who move from initial indifference to each other to growing attraction. Unlike One Day, there is no shock ending. Instead, Nicholls treats us to a crafted volume detailing the unfolding love of two people. Set against the backdrop of a scenic England, he makes us feel that we too are part of the couple’s 200-mile walk, bringing us close to a couple of characters with whom we can easily identify.

You Are Here is an engaging story of a midlife romance, written in a style that captures some of the absurdity of life in a condensed text, and is a gentle delight in a world that is largely populated by grim tales. Just as with One Day, it is easy to imagine You Are Here being turned into a television series.

You Are Here by David Nicholls is published by Sceptre, €21.75

The Classic

1984 by George Orwell

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind.” From the beginning, time is out of joint in this enduring classic, but still within reach of our imagination. Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece still holds an eerie power, seven decades and more after its publication in 1949. The author’s warning of a spiritless, totalitarian time to come has not lost its relevance.

For many readers, there will be a frightening resemblance between the world Orwell imagined, in which thought is forbidden and privacy is taboo, and the world today, which is saturated with an online need to have it all. The specific oppressions he portrays are memorable because they are so nearly recognisable.

1984, by George Orwell, is published by Penguin (Prices vary)


Quickly, While They Still Have Horses by Jan Carson

Winner of the EU Prize for Literature for The Fire Starters (2019), and shortlisted for a number of prizes, Belfast-based Jan Carson already has a pedigree when it comes to writing, starting with her debut novel, Malcolm Orange Disappears, in 2014.

Now, a decade later, she has given us a collection of 16 stories that are scary, surreal and darkly comical, as she portrays life in contemporary Northern Ireland. She introduces us to worlds and characters that we feel are familiar with. Adolescence, first and mature love, parenthood and loss are depicted with a mix of compassion, wit and imagination.

In ‘A Certain Degree of Ownership’, a distracted couple on a beach fail to notice their baby crawl perilously toward the sea – just a taster of what is another classic.

Quickly, While They Still Have Horses, by Jan Carson, is published by Doubleday, €16.99


Seaborne by Nuala O’Connor

Seaborne is an outstanding novel, written with great vitality and tenderness. There is a clarity to the writing of Nuala O’Connor that allows her to portray the character of the 18th century Irish woman Anne Bonny in a way that has us living in the time and place in which the novel is set.

Anne Bonny is the illegitimate child of a local lawyer and his maid, but disguised as ‘Anthony’ to protect reputations. Such a label suits Anne just fine, though she struggles to fit in. When the secret is revealed, the family emigrates to the new colony of Carolina, but there is trouble ahead. Anne finds comfort with the servant Bedelia, enters a misjudged marriage, and later succumbs to her craving for a seafaring life. This is a book that portrays a woman out of step with her time and place, but not her heart.

Seaborne, by Nuala O’Connor, is published by New Island, €16.95

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