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.
–Eggshells by Caitriona Lally, c.2015
I first noticed Eggshells when it arrived at work, with those hints about changelings and fairy tale echoes. But I didn’t pick it up at the time. It was only more recently when the author was named as winner of the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature 2018 that I decided I’d give it a go.
It is the story of Vivian, or at least of a couple of weeks, maybe months, in her life after the death of her great-aunt as she adjusts to living alone, and her wish to have a friend named Penelope.
I’m not sure if Vivian is supposed to have autism or be on the spectrum, or if her eccentric personality is the result of her childhood. Both herself and her sister are called Vivian, and as a child her parents told her she was a changeling and kept trying to send her back. Now an adult she is still searching for a way back, away from the incomprehensible people that surround her.
She is a wonderful character, but I did feel sorry for her poor goldfish.
Eggshells is a really great read. It felt in some ways a bit like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine in that both books feature outsiders who have very distinctive outlooks on life. Both books are humourous and warm-hearted, and both deal with the after effects of abuse.
But Eggshells also uses the city as a character, it’s quite Joycean in the way it mentions all those street names and journeys through Dublin. There is also a bit of stream-of-consciousness to the book as well, but it is still very easy to read and understand everything that it going on. The whole book is from Vivian’s point of view, and if she is ignoring something then the reader doesn’t get to discover what’s going on. You know only what Vivian is thinking or doing.
All in all I really enjoyed this book and will be on the look out for more by Lally.