Cecelia Ahern

Posted by Sue Leonard on Monday 4th January 2016

The Marble Collector. Harper Collins, €18.44;

Kindle, €8.50

THE Marble Collector opens with a memory. Sabrina Bloggs, aged three, watches as her mother launches the teapot at the ceiling.

In retrospect, she imagines this was done in anger with her father, since her parents, who later separated, had survived many storms.

Now a married mum of two, Sabrina has the theme of memory on her mind. Dividing memories into sections of things we want to forget, things we can’t forget, and things we forget until we remember them, she has a knack of remembering things that others forget.

Her father, Fergus Bloggs, can’t remember anything.

He’s in a nursing home having suffered a stroke. When a marble collection belonging to him arrives at Sabrina’s house, she realises there was a whole dimension of his life that he kept from his family.

And, she feels, he needs to remember what that was, and she needs to find out so that she can help him to remember. She decides she must do this in just one day.

Beautifully structured, the novel switches between Fergus’s past and Sabrina’s present. There’s poignancy and heartbreak in Fergus’s childhood, all told through his love for and skill at marbles. From a close-knit working class family, he puts on an act for his girlfriend Gina, feeling she is too good for him.

They marry, but Fergus is clearly hiding something. He’s happy to have discovered the power of secrets, though, ultimately, they are his undoing.

Back in the present, Sabrina is working as a lifeguard. Happy in the water, on land she sometimes forgets to breathe.

Her husband, Aidan, keeps asking her what’s wrong, but she can’t put a finger on why she’s out of sorts. It’s just that she’s somehow stuck.

The action traverses Dublin as Sabrina uncovers her father’s past. His lie makes sense of so much of her childhood, but did she ever really know him?

And will he ever regain his memory?

Cecelia has sold more than 24 million copies of her novels since she shot to fame with P.S. I love you 12 years ago.

This is her 12 novel; there are two Young Adults books in the pipeline, along with a third film.

The author has always known her market, and has produced consistently original novels which pack an emotional punch, and the later ones show an increased skill and maturity. Her last novel, The Year I met You, deservedly won the popular fiction category at the Irish Books Awards last year; and The Marble Collector is even better.

Through Fergus, brought up in north Dublin, she has presented a grittier side of Ireland, where bad things happen. The tensions between the five boys; three from a first marriage, two from the second is wonderfully realised.

But it’s the complicated relationship he has with his eldest brother Hamish — and the effect of Hamish’s untimely death that has the most repercussions on Fergus’s life.

This novel has been meticulously researched. We learn about the different types of marbles; about the various games and the astonishing price collectors will pay for the best specimens.

I liked the juxtaposition between Fergus’s sometimes dramatic sections and Sabrina’s more subtle ones.

Her family, Aidan and the boys, stay in the background, a worried but supportive presence.

Whilst this is a more skilled and serious novel than Ahern has delivered before, it’s not without its romantic side.

It’s not a love story per se, but the author gives her readers a tender and redemptive ending that would warm anyone’s heart.

Published in The Irish Examiner, 19th December, 2015.

© Sue Leonard. 2015

Leave a Reply