Cecelia Ahern

Posted by Sue Leonard on Friday 27th January 2017

Do the shows protect them, or are they exploited and misused?

This is a central theme of Cecelia Ahern’s new novel; her 13th.

Laura lives at the foot of a mountain in the south-west, her existence a secret.

Since the deaths of her mother and grandmother, she has been provided for by her father, a reclusive farmer.

When he dies she is stranded; his surviving twin unaware of her existence.

Laura is different. She understands life through the sounds around her.

She can mimic everything from birds to voices to coffee machines; in fact she can’t stop herself from doing so.

And when Bo, Soloman and Rachel; the documentary team who won an award for their portrayal of the twin farmers’ lives come across her, they ask if they can now document the 26-year-old’s life.

Soloman is entranced by Laura, and his girlfriend, Bo, though she suspects this, sees the girl as a vehicle to enhance her reputation.

Laura agrees, and they start filming, but when Bo pushes her to appear on the talent TV show, StarrQuest, her success changes everything.

In that frenzied atmosphere where the contestants are manipulated, we get the sense that what the show produces isn’t real at all.

Laura, now nicknamed Lyrebird, founders through the experience. Her sense of dislocation is beautifully conveyed. Ahern knows something of how that feels.

It’s not that the author’s situation directly mirrors that of her heroine; how could it, when Ahern comes from a family that is rarely out of the public gaze?

Reading the text, I was reminded of Ahern as I first met her, at 21, back when she was publicising PS I Love You.

Pretty in pink, awkward and shy, and, it has since been revealed, suffering devastating panic attacks, she had the air of someone thrown into the jaws of the publicity machine, at the mercy of every begrudger.

Since then she has proved her worth.

Over 22 million copies of her books have sold worldwide; there are two movies of her books, with two others in production; she’s penned a couple of TV series, and most recently, the first of her novels for young adults.

An original, Ahern never follows trends. Nor does she stick to a particular writing style.

She moved from pure romance to a touch of fairy tale, from kitsch to more gritty, and, in the latest novel, to a confident combination of reality and allegory.

There’s a lot going on in this novel. There’s warmth in the scenes where Soloman takes Laura to his mother’s 70th birthday party. We meet his artistic, yet chaotic family; a band of brothers who are clearly enchanted by their ethereal guest.

There’s a graphic, all-too-real episode in a nightclub, where Laura, unused to alcohol, ends up shamed, her fame abused.

And there’s a poignant scene in Australia, where a caged, frantic lyrebird is brought to a wood to ‘meet’ Laura for an ill-thought out publicity stunt.

At the centre is an exposition of sounds; of what they can mean to us, and of how they evoke memory. Sounds are the element connecting Sol to Laura.

Will the two be able to overcome all the obstacles preventing them from getting together?

I enjoyed this novel, and consider it one of Ahern’s best. It felt too long; it would have benefited from losing 100 or so pages, but it had heart and a sense of morality.

The fundamental question is, if you find something rare and precious should you keep it close or share it with the world?

Lyrebird. Harper Collins. €10.99;Kindle: €8.48

Published in the Irish Examiner on 21st January, 2017

© Sue Leonard. 2017

Leave a Reply