by Caitriona Lally
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Melville House (March 14, 2017)
— Irish Book of the Year Finalist!
A whimsical, touching debut about loneliness, friendship, and hope…
Vivian doesn’t feel like she fits in — and never has. As a child, she was so whimsical that her parents told her she was “left by fairies.” Now, living alone in Dublin, the neighbors treat her like she’s crazy, her older sister condescends to her, social workers seem to have registered her as troubled, and she hasn’t a friend in the world.
So, she decides it’s time to change her life: She begins by advertising for a friend. Not just any friend. She wants one named Penelope.
Meanwhile, she roams the city, mapping out a new neighborhood every day, seeking her escape route to a better world, the other world her parents told her she came from.
And then one day someone named Penelope answers her ad for a friend. And from that moment on, Vivian’s life begins to change.
Debut author Caitriona Lally offers readers an exhilaratingly fresh take on the Irish love for lyricism, humor, and inventive wordplay in a book that is, in itself, deeply charming, and deeply moving.
“This urban fairy tale delivers something that is both subtle and profound in its examination of the human soul. Magically delicious.”—Kirkus
“A whimsical jaunt through Dublin and a modern take on many old Irish folktales…Humorous, charming, and original.”—Booklist
“Inventive, funny and, ultimately, moving.” — Claire Kilroy, The Guardian
“Full of action and humor as its beguiling narrator takes her surreal jaunts around the capital in search of a portal to another world…. The black comedy gives the book a jaunty quality that complements the dazzling trip around Dublin.” — Sarah Gilmartin, The Irish Times
“Delightfully quirky… Vivian’s voice alone is enough to keep us reading, charmed by her unique brand of manic, word-hoarding wit.” — The Irish Independent
“The book’s style calls to mind The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Engaging and humorous.” — The Dublin Inquirer
“This is a strange, lyrical, fantastical, and slightly disturbing book that left me feeling a bit dizzy each time I would read a few chapters… a fresh take on wordplay and humor… Vivian is a sympathetic, and utterly unforgettable, character.” — Jennifer Ohzourk, St. Louis Public Library
My glance keeps returning to the urn; I’m expecting the lid to open and the burnt eye of my great-aunt to peek out. When they were deciding how to bury her, I said she had always wanted to be cremated. It was a lie the size of a graveyard, but I wanted to make sure she was well and truly dead.
Some of the white letters on the street signs have been coloured blue to match the blue background… I picture a band of Smurfs combing the city in the black of night with tins of blue paint, daubing over the street letters that offend them. For the higher-up signs they step on each other’s shoulders to form a pyramid, placing the most agile Smurf with the best blue head for heights at the top.
Her clothes are red and yellow and screaming. This must be Penelope; only people with three Es in their names would dress so loud. I wave. She smiles, the kind of smile that could reheat cold coffee, with yellow gappy teeth in need of a power hose.
I will eat only blue food for the rest of the day… It seems right that on the day of my blue feast I’m feeling blue myself. My belly feels bruised inside, as if all the blue foods were having a fistfight among themselves.
I would like to get things done and ticked off lists; some of my projects are endlessly roaming like lemmings without a leader.
Do uppercase letters feel superior to lowercase letters? Which would come off best in a game of thumb wrestling? The uppercase letters have pointed edges and size on their side, but their lowercase rivals are bendy with attitude.
I try to think of what is said at burials on television, and I say in my most solemn voice: ‘Scales to ashes, fins to dust… Your death is untimely, it’s so unjust.’
Written from a first person POV, Eggshells was a smartly written and extremely amusing stream of consciousness narrative of a mentally disordered woman with a creative and childlike imagination, which had me frequently giggle-snorting and barking aloud in mirth. Ms. Lally has mad skills and her strong word voodoo conjured crisp and cleverly ridiculous and animated visuals. Vivian liked words but didn’t enjoy using them aloud. She collected them in lists and had filled notebooks with them, but when forced to interact in the real word, she seemed to have a finite supply of verbal expression at her disposal. But she was apparently making an effort and claimed to be working on using sentences and some arm gestures she had learned from watching soap operas. Smirk.
Vivian’s history and family tree seemed rather bizarre and of questionable mental stability as well with oddities that were far beyond mere eccentricity. We aren’t given much information about that, just enough flavor to tease and tantalize. But unlike her harsher relatives, Vivian was a gentle soul, and I adored her. She was a fascinating character with extremely limited personal hygiene (she enjoyed her strong funk), dubious parentage, and an obvious mental disorder. She was hands down, one of the most intriguing and odd main characters – ever. She was in dire need of psychotropic medication and the monitoring of a mental health professional as she spent a considerable amount of time engaging in magical thinking. She also exhibited many OCD characteristics with a hoarding room, fixation on symmetry and even numbers, and completing tasks or behaviors in threes and sevens – for their “transformative powers.” She kept lists of words she liked and invented some to take the place of words she didn’t. I relished her word fixation, as I’m prone to that bit of oddity myself. She also searched each wardrobe for the passageway to Narnia and roamed Dublin on foot, bus, and taxi looking for hobbits, fairies, and portals to other dimensions.
Vivian was obviously highly intelligent and had a childlike imagination. One of my favorites of her odd thoughts was when she had placed several objects in her pocket and worried they may have “an inter-substance squabble.” Ingenious!
CAITRIONA LALLY studied English Literature in Trinity College Dublin. She has had a colorful employment history, working as an abstract writer and a copywriter, as well as a home helper in New York and an English teacher in Japan. She has traveled extensively around Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and South America. Caitriona was shortlisted for “Newcomer of the Year” in the Irish Book Awards in 2015.
Connect with Caitriona on Twitter.