Review: Scenes of a Graphic Nature by Caroline O’Donoghue

Opening sentence: “‘Connor Cronin was a pudgy boy,’ he muses.”

Scenes of a Graphic Nature is Irish author and journalist Caroline O’Donoghue’s second novel. It’s a sharp, funny story of a woman’s journey to discover more about her Irish roots and uncover a decades old mystery while she’s at it.

Scenes of a Graphic Nature by Caroline O'Donoghue book review

It was the combination of these two plot elements that really sold this book to me. There’s nothing I love more than a strong female character having some life-changing realisations and small-town secrets being revealed (this element actually reminded me of Graham Norton‘s great novels).

So, who is this great lead character?

Charlotte Regan (known as Charlie) is a budding film director / writer and is half Irish through her father. She is confused, feels lost in life, makes impulsive decisions that she regrets and is trying to find her sense of purpose in the world. I found her relatable on those fronts and I too have Irish parents but (mainly) grew up in England, so felt that connection to her character immediately. Being Irish but not being there does trigger an unusual sense of longing (for exactly what, I’m not sure) and it was really interesting to read a book with this theme.

Back to the plot: Charlie was born and raised in England and has managed to reach the age of 29 without ever actually stepping foot on the Emerald Isle. Despite this, she feels an affinity to her Irishness and (along with her friend Laura) makes a film depicting an unusual event that happened to her father in his childhood on the small, remote (fictional) island off the west of Ireland, Clipim.

When Charlie’s film, It Takes a Village, is accepted into the Cork Film Festival, she makes her first trip to Ireland and it’s there that she starts to make discoveries. About herself, her father’s past and the small island her dad grew up on.

You believed everything your dad said, while simultaneously knowing the other thing was true.

Scenes of a Graphic Nature asks the question: just because you uncover a secret, does that mean it’s yours to tell? The truth about what happened in her father’s school in 1963 has remained confined for all this time. Is it really Charlie’s place to expose it?

You just officially became Irish.

I really liked how Caroline O’Donoghue explored the complex nature of being Irish. Celebrating what everyone loves about the country, while also shining a light on issues – modern and historical. Interestingly, this is the second time an author has brought up Ireland’s controversial refugee laws in my recent reads. Marian Keyes also tackles the Direct Provision issue in my current audiobook listen, Grown Ups.

‘I love Ireland. I love Kerry. It’s horrifying and beautiful and so fucking sad. Everything I learn about being here makes me question just… who people are, and how they can do these things to each other, and how they survive them after they do. I hate it, but I love it.’

‘Hey, congratulations Charlie,’ he says, giving me a pained smile. ‘You just officially became Irish.’

Scenes of a Graphic Nature is a tantalising blend of mystery story, lesson in Ireland and its nuances and contemporary protagonist novel. I found it to be multi-layered, often funny (‘My mum is the kind of person who is still very impressed by Sensations crisps, believing they can elevate any kind of situation to the status of informal dinner party among close friends’) and very engrossing to read.

  • Published by Virago 18th June 2020;
  • 352 pages;
  • My rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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