Review: Eggshells by Caitriona Lally

Opening sentence: “When I return to my great-aunt’s house with her ashes, the air feels uncertain, as if it doesn’t know how to deal with me.”

I am a fan of character driven novels, which this is. I love being drawn into their world and pottering around with them, getting a glimpse into their life. Eggshells is told from the point-of-view of Vivian Lawler (whose older sister is, inexplicably, also called Vivian. We’re not told why but the implication is that her parents couldn’t even be bothered to think of a name for her) and is a kind of stream-of-consciousness snapshot of a short period in her life. She lives alone in her great-aunt’s house that she recently inherited. She has no job, no friends and a strained relationship with her name-twin sister.

Vivian is a very interesting, thought-provoking character. One that I’ve found myself pondering over the last few days since I finished the book. She has a unique way of looking at the world, to the point where I instinctively thought that she was perhaps autistic, although this is never stated. She has a complex mix of characteristics; ignorant of social conventions, yet very bright. She is also aware that her behaviour is different from other people’s, ‘She looks at me like I’m Christmas in July.’ Sometimes she lies to people to cover up what she is doing, as she knows they wouldn’t understand and she even says this to a bus driver after an encounter with a confused old lady, indicating a level of awareness about what others think of her: ‘Then I say, ‘Leeson Street, please,’ in my most superior voice because for once I’m not the mad one, I’m the person who puts mad people on buses and pushes them off again.’

As I was reading I actually thought Vivian seemed childlike in many ways. She acts on instinct and doesn’t think of the consequences of her actions, or about other people really. She meets a child on a beach and observes, ‘The girl understands my answers better than any adult.’ It seems that (her back story is only touched upon very briefly) Vivian has either reverted to or never developed from how children look at the world.

Plot-wise, there isn’t really one. Vivian spends a majority of her time wandering the streets of Dublin looking for portals to other worlds. She believes she belongs somewhere else and is looking for ‘a code or a message or a map, leading me to my rightful world.’ This really does make my heart ache as Vivian is so lonely and this exudes from her throughout the read. She is so lost and alone in the world that she has convinced herself she is from somewhere else. A one point she even advertises for a friend, but one specifically called Penelope, ‘I want a friend called Penelope. When I know her well enough, I’ll ask her why she doesn’t rhyme with antelope.’ As this quote demonstrates, the sadness of this book was juxtaposed with some funny moments due to Vivian’s misunderstanding of situations and social norms. But ultimately I just wanted to scoop her up and give her some love.

However, due to the lack of plot, I found Vivian’s wandering of the streets of Dublin just a little too repetitive. I don’t mind this as a concept, but I don’t need to read 7 variations on it throughout the book. I’d liked to have found out a little more about what makes Vivian tick and had a little less looking for portals. Overall this was a unique read with a lyrical writing style (there were some lovely sentences in there too: ‘I wake on a damp pillow; my dreams must have leaked’) that introduced me to a character I ended up caring for and still find myself thinking about.

Rating: 3.5/5


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