The Accidental Wife by Orla McAlinden

Orla McAlinden is from Portadown in the Irish Occupied Six Counties (OSC), although she refers to it as Northern Ireland. This is apparently her first book. It shows.

McAlinden received something called the Eludia Award, given out ‘for a first book-length unpublished novel or collection of stories by a woman writer, aged 40 or above.’ It continues thus, ‘The purpose of the prize is to support the many women writers who meet with delays and obstacles in discovering their creative selves.’ Phew, what a lot of conditions! They might as well have specified that only women with long brown hair need apply, and they can’t be too saggy around the middle.

So what is all this ‘woman writer’ business? It all sounds very sexist, and I’m forced to wonder if those making the award were setting the criteria for someone they’d like to date. Someone needs to check if the Eludia Award is presented by a person with a horny penchant for middle-aged women who may have a bit of imagination.

Are there similar prizes for men, I wonder? Is there a Strong-like-Bull Award, given to men over 50 who have a pot belly, massive hairy balls and can fart their national anthem? Somehow I doubt it. What a shame.

In any event, winning the Eludia Award means publication of one’s book, plus $1000. That’s not bad for an emerging writer. Sadly, I don’t feel that the standard can be all that high, as The Accidental Wife was not an enjoyable read. It is not a novel, although it is presented as such. It is, instead, a short story collection set entirely in the OSC, and loosely centred upon the fortunes of the McCann family from county Tyrone.

In The Accidental Wife, we are obliged to wade through a disjointed account of an Irish Catholic family through the last 4 decades. We discover, through the author’s approach, that she does not like Irish Republicans, as she regales us with one questionable scenario after another.

I found this book to be a typically wooden, middle class rendition of life under the oppressive British colonial regime that governed the northern statelet with an iron hand. Many among the Irish pseudo-Nationalist middle classes, cared little about their national identity and instead concerned themselves only with personal profit and gain. This book unintentionally reflects that.

I would describe The Accidental Wife as a fairly dystopian presentation of OSC society. Although it can be said that we here, in the Occupied Six Counties, have our faults, and many of them, and although the conflict that occurred over the course of 30 years (known euphemistically as The Troubles) caused harm, pain and suffering on all sides of our political divide, I know from personal experience that there was much to be enjoyed. 

People in the OSC stand accused of possessing an ofttimes dark sense of humour. It may be that this predilection is a coping mechanism developed as a means of dealing with the horrors of life in a war-zone. Yet the region is one where visitors will find people of all persuasions who enjoy life and craic and banter. It’s a good place to visit, and live.

Orla McAlinden must have resided in a black painted box, such is the negative portrayal of her home area. I always find it irritating when such individuals rubbish their place of birth so comprehensively. I note that the book cover states that she now lives in Kildare, near Dublin, in the south of our country. Presumably, the people there must all sit around scented campfires of an evening, singing hymns whilst sharing fucking marshmallows like designer hippies from Stepford. McAlinden is not the first author from the OSC to portray her home-place in such a negative manner. Nor, I suspect, will she be the last. Pity.

Her writing skills are decent. Her research and structuring are not. For example, she has the British Army carrying AK-47’s. Given the ease with which basic research can be conducted today via the internet, there is really no excuse for such glaring errors.

The chapters/short stories are not in themselves very good, save for the very last which had an ending which I did not see coming. The rest were mediocre. The problem therefore, is that a collection of mediocre short stories leads inevitably to a mediocre book. That’s what this is. Characters appear and disappear at random. Loose ends abound. It’s erratic and spastic, but never fantastic.

There is an interview with the author at the back which is, to say the least, pretentious for a first time author. I note also that said author has written her auto-biography. One book, and she has written her memoirs. What the fuck!

It is a sad trend today, that B and C list celebs, as well as Gaelic footballers (Irish sports-persons) and up and coming wannabees are writing auto-biographies. Their arrogance and idiocy astounds me. I would suggest waiting until they have lived a life worth reading about, before they believe some greedy agent’s guff about how interesting they are. I watched a documentary once about outdoors pursuits. In it was a young boy of approximately 12 years of age, who was a a participant in coasteering. This wholesome activity involves jumping off cliffs into the sea. It’s very enjoyable and I have indulged occasionally in said activity. It can cause your testicles to leap up into your body where they remain huddled in terror waiting for you to have some good sense. However, the young boy shown in the program told the interviewer about how he was writing his auto-biography. It’s a sad sign of the times we live in, when we find some children thinking along such lines.

There’s not a great deal more to say about The Accidental Wife. In fact there’s not a great deal to say about The Accidental Wife, period (I put that period in for any north American readers, as I know you enjoy it. Go on, admit it…). If you want a skewed, misleading and incomplete one-dimensional portrayal of life in the northern portion of Ireland, then this is the book for you.

If you value your time and sanity, then might I suggest giving it a miss. Alternatively, you could read the bible instead as it has a greater connection to reality (so Noah managed to get two kangaroos to the Middle East before the Flood? And two wallabies? And two Rheas? (I could go on indefinitely). And where did they put 40 days worth of food? You don’t want really hungry lions, tigers and bears on the same small boat with prey animals. And who got the job of cleaning out all that shit? Now that’s a short straw (It’s amazing that there are lunatics who believe all that crap, and kill to prove it). Still, it’s closer to real than The Accidental Wife).

Sult Scale rating: 2 out of 10. I’d rather lick the sweat from Donald Trump’s soggy armpits than read this again.

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