Life’s What You Make It – Sian O’ Gorman

Olivia is an Irish Woman living and working in London – a long way from her home seaside village. This seemed a poignant fact, when Olivia passes a cherry tree on her way to work and she mentions that it is the the only organic thing she sees on her commute to work! The descriptions of Sandycove were delightful; most appealing, and it was not a surprise for me, as a reader, that Olivia seemed to yearning after her birthplace. I loved the depiction of Sandycove as ‘a long curving line of shops, pubs and cafés’. What more could one want! Serendipitously (you could argue), Olivia ended up going ‘home’ for a month to help out her Mother. Early on, I felt curiously drawn to Olivia, and I also found I had a bit of a soft spot for her friend Roberto, such was the way that he was portrayed.

As Olivia flew into Dublin, I absolutely loved the idea of the piers of Dún Laoghaire ‘hugging’ the boats in the bay. Such understated, yet powerful imagery. As I previously commented, the village of Sandycove sounded lovely; it was described in such a way that it conjured up the most beautiful images in my mind and I felt compelled to google it, to see if it actually exists; I hadn’t even appreciated that Dublin (Sandycove is a suburb of Dublin) was anywhere near the seaside! I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Sandycove does indeed exist, and is a popular seaside resort. I can only comment that the author was nothing but accurate in her representation of this clearly popular retreat and I felt compelled to add it to my mental ‘to be visited’ list.

On arrival at her family home, the author described Olivia’s family home and I felt an immediate empathy for Olivia’s Mother, owing to the fact that there was a monkey puzzle tree in the front garden. I felt genuine monkey puzzle envy, owing to the fact that I love the look of these trees, even if it was actually described as a ‘crazy little tree’. Indeed I have been growing one in my garden (or trying to) for several years, and it seems to grow at a rate of considerably less than 1cm per year! Anyway, enough of my arboreal issues, and back to the book! I do find that empathising with the personalities in a novel correlates directly with your enjoyment of the book in its entirety, owing to the fact that you have a vested interest in the outcome of those characters. I felt confident at this point, so early on in the book, that my affinity to these main characters, augured well for the rest of the story.

Henry, Nell’s(Olivia’s Mother) partner simply exudes charm and sophistication, with a big helping of attentiveness, from the moment he appears in the book, to the extent that I can forgive the prickly handlebar moustache! It doesn’t take a lot to see why Nell appears to be fairly smitten with him! What’s not to like (apart from the prickly appendage)!🥸 When Nell said of Henry, ‘He’s brought a great deal of happiness into my life,’ I sensed such tangible joy, owing, I’m sure, to the intelligence and generosity of the author’s prose.

We initially get hints at first from Nell, about Olivia’s failed business making soaps and the like. It sounds like the kind of business that could thrive, especially in a touristy town, but something clearly went wrong. What is certain, however is that Olivia clearly doesn’t like talking about that time in her life; she immediately clams up when Nell brings the subject up, albeit briefly. Olivia is not alone in the ‘sore subject’ stakes, as Nell almost visibly recoils, when Olivia asks about the identity of her Father. One can’t help but wonder about the mystery shrouding the identity of Olivia’s Father, but that little touch of intrigue merely serves to enhance the reader’s enjoyment of the book as a whole – in my case at any rate!

Bronagh is Olivia’s long time friend. She seems to be almost bursting with ‘joi de vivre’ and as such, comes across as infinitely likeable. I loved the fact that the two women get together having not seen each other for some tiMe, and their friendship has defied time – they are as happy together and familiar with each other as if they had only seen each other yesterday. Their enviable friendship is a veritable tonic to the reader.

The more we see of Olivia, the more we learn about her life and her past. It seems such a shame that her skincare range didn’t turn out well, as the products sounded amazing. Olivia has been unlucky in love recently, but she comes across as such a genuinely ‘nice’ person, one can but hope that situation maybe resolved, but in sleepy Sandycove? I do have a theory about Sandycove. It is narrated in such a way, that one cannot help but be drawn into its inner workings and every day goings on. Similarly I suspect that a character such as Olivia will get inexorably drawn into village life, the longer she spends there away from her bustling norm, to the extent that there will come a time when she cannot bear to leave this new way of life. I loved the phrase about the tentacles of village life pulling Olivia in – this was exactly how her position came across to me, the reader. To be honest, seeing as how she hated her city job, I don’t think that being captured by the tentacles of village life would necessarily be a bad thing for Olivia long term. I did hold out great hopes for Olivia and Will, the village GP – such a catch – and then his ruddy ex wife turned up. I could but hope, as I reached the denouement!

I want a Jessica. I’m just putting it out there…….I did however worry that there was some thing dark going. With her partner – an element of mystery for the story.

Jessica works for Nell in her shop and she comes across as an amazing chameleon type character, who is instantly able to change her mannerisms to suit the ‘needs’ of each individual customer. She comes across as completely organised in her own life, and happy to help others; I need a Jessica in my life!

Fate finds Olivia charged with organising the Midsummer Festival for the village, with just three weeks notice and it is a testimony to her that she seizes the task at hand and throws her all into it.

There is a wonderful sense of community in Sandycove, an example being when James the delicatessen needs to be at home with his dog, and the whole village rallies around to keep the shop open. Such wonderful camaraderie, all to rare nowadays.

The tagline for the book suggest that you need to learn to love yourself first before you can truly love another. I felt that the book owned the statement. This was a wonderful story, built around that line and I find it difficult to come up with the words justified by such a fabulous read. Please read it for yourself, to fully understand what I mean:

I really could not praise this book enough, and I struggled to put it down; it was bright star in a stellar library of books, shining out stronger and brighter than all the other novels. I think what may just quell my sadness at coming to the end of this book, would be a sequel, defining the next chapter in Olivia’s life.


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