The Rachel Incident | By Caroline O’Donoghue
NetGalley E-ARC | Literary Fiction
Rachel is a student working at a bookstore when she meets James, and it’s love at first sight. Effervescent and insistently heterosexual, James soon invites Rachel to be his roommate and the two begin a friendship that changes the course of both their lives forever. Together, they run riot through the streets of Cork city, trying to maintain a bohemian existence while the threat of the financial crash looms before them.
When Rachel falls in love with her married professor, Dr. Fred Byrne, James helps her devise a reading at their local bookstore, with the goal that she might seduce him afterwards. But Fred has other desires. So begins a series of secrets and compromises that intertwine the fates of James, Rachel, Fred, and Fred’s glamorous, well-connected, bourgeois wife. Aching with unrequited love, shot through with delicious, sparkling humor, The Rachel Incident is a triumph.
Narrative and Plot
I went into this book almost blind and did not know what to expect. I read the blurb a while ago when I requested it from NetGalley, but I honestly didn’t remember much when I started it. Still, this one pulled me into this world of Rachel and her Jameses. It is a heartwarming coming-of-age story.
Even though I know little about Irish culture or history, the characters and their motivations are quite relatable. Recently, I read the book Bunny which had a strong friendship but eventually the plot went all over the place. Here, however, I enjoyed the ebb and flow of the relationships. It was messy and flawed and all the very real for it.
Characters and Conflicts
Books like this make me wonder how authors can infuse an inherent tone of humor while discussing a serious topic. I still remember being stunned by Arundathi Roy’s “Sophie Mol – Coffin cartwheeler”. It won’t be fair to compare these two books. But, I guess the point I am trying to make is that there is an inherent light-heartedness in the way Rachel sees the world. Despite the whirlwind that was her life, this makes her character endearing till the end.
Carey and James were both equally brilliantly written realistic characters. Carey, in particular because he was as flawed and messed up as Rachel too. They complemented each other and despite the many differences and issues; I was rooting for them.
Now coming to the friendship between James and Rachel. It is the soul of this story. Their relationship carried the whole book as it was intended. It almost feels like I have read someone’s memoir instead of a fictional story. I loved how the book didn’t bother to create characters that were aspirational. Instead, it portrayed realistic characters and showed us that despite the many flaws, everyone deserves their own version of truth and happiness in life.
In short, I would say go for it. I might not end up re-reading this, but I would want as many people reading this because it is as the author described in the acknowledgment – a cinematic version of the smaller things in life.
If someone were to ask me to describe this book in a few words, “a beautiful coming of age” novel would be apt. But, I think it offers much more than that.
Disclaimer:I received an e-ARC of the book in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley.