Lead Review (The Coast Road)

  • Book: The Coast Road
  • Location: County Donegal
  • Author: Alan Murrin

Review Author: tripfiction



Power, conflict and exquisite dialogue: this is a treasure of Irish literary fiction.

I’ll admit I chose this book for its cover. The power of the waves and the loneliness of the cottage intrigued me. I wanted to read about what daily life in the remoter parts of Ireland might be like. But it turns out that Ardglas isn’t the cosy community that I’d envisaged. Imagine a small, close-knit Irish town, where nothing that happens goes unnoticed and everyone has an opinion. Layer over that the politics of church and state, and the unequal power balance in relationships. Season with the most exquisite dialogue and you have the flavour of The Coast Road by Alan Murrin.

Ardglas is a fictional small fishing town in Donegal and the setting is critical, as is the date. The story takes place in 1994, when there was a pause in the Troubles thanks to a fragile ceasefire, and just before the critical referendum that would finally legalise divorce. Forty-four-year-old Colette Crowley returns to Ardglas after ending an affair with a married man in Dublin. She has nothing, not even her dignity. It’s just before Christmas and she rents a holiday cottage owned by Dolores and Donal Mullen.

Colette’s return is the subject of gossip and divided opinions in the town. With her striking appearance and unconventional behaviour, she is seen as a threat by men and women alike. Izzy Keaveney is one of the few who will give her the time of day. Colette is a poet, and she begins teaching writing classes in Ardglas. Izzy decides to attend, mainly to escape her husband, James, and her own troubled marriage for a few hours. Colette is desperate to be reunited with her children and Izzy’s sense of fair play leads her to offer to help. Izzy’s kind gesture doesn’t go unnoticed, however, and there will be repercussions. The fortunes of the two women are now inextricably linked.

Murrin writes lyrically and the colour and texture of his descriptions bring the fictional seaside community to life. The wild coastline reflects the tumultuous relationships he describes. The men are depicted as selfish and hold financial, sexual and emotional control, whereas the women are nurturing, big-hearted, but powerless. The gentle priest, Father Brian, represents a kind of middle ground but also illustrates the ineffectual role of the church in practical terms. The author playfully explores the process of writing within the book, as an expression of hidden feelings and a cathartic activity. The characters are brilliantly written, each with their own back story. There’s plenty of drama and tension but also a wonderful dry humour that had me chuckling. This warm hug of a book will definitely stay with me.

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