The Long, Hot Summer by Kathleen MacMahon

In brief: The MacEntee family has always been out there. Somewhat eccentric and high-flying, they face a number of calamities over one summer. Will it bring them together or drive them further apart?

The good: The family is never dull.

The not-so-good: Didn’t always gel for me.

Why I chose it: Thank you to Hachette Australia for the book.

Year: 2015

Pages: 388

Publisher: Sphere (Hachette)

Setting: Ireland

My rating: 7 out of 10

OK, I admit it. I started reading The Long, Hot Summer in the middle of a particularly freezing winter week. I was hoping that some of the warmth would transfer to me, huddled under blankets with only my fingers peeking out. I love family stories and I was interested to see how the MacEntees would handle their numerous upheavals over the course of the summer. The story begins with Deirdre, family matriarch, planning a grand party and her death. Basically, her death is a way of one-upping her estranged husband who left her for a man years ago. Manus has said that she’ll live forever, but she’ll prove him wrong! Deirdre is not keen on getting old, on being a faded star of the stage.

Each of the following chapters is told from the perspective of another one of the MacEntees. Alma is the next to tell her story – she’s a highflying journalist, only to be cut down in a random attack at home. Alma has an epiphany and starts to change – stopping dying her hair and moving from television to radio. There’s then the sensation of the year in Ireland as her ex-husband is caught stealing a pepper grinder. Who does he turn to? Alma, of course. Meanwhile, Alma’s sister Acushla has a deep dark secret she’s ready to tell – at the expense of her husband’s political career in Ireland. Both Alma and Acushla’s daughters have their own problems while Manus is now a carer for his lover. Sadly, tragedy strikes again but will this bring the MacEntees closer?

I liked the way The Long, Hot Summer was set out – the long chapters from different characters reminded me of Maeve Binchy’s books (such as Minding Frankie). However, I felt that there was something lost between the chapters, that they were more separate than joined. At times, it was like some of the previous events hadn’t happened. For example, after Acushla goes public with her secret, it doesn’t really flow into the following narrative. I would have thought a big shock like that, given that she was the talking point of Ireland’s media for days, would reverberate more. Perhaps it didn’t do so through the MacEntees to show how disparate they were to each other. Also, some things weren’t spelled out enough for me – what exactly was wrong with Sam? Why has Macdara sequestered himself since his breakdown, and what happened exactly? Given that other events were told in detail, I would have liked to have known more about these too.

Kathleen MacMahon’s writing is excellent and she certainly knows how to tell a story. I haven’t read This is How it Ends, but I’d be interested in doing so, given the stellar reviews for it. I just felt that this story didn’t flow as well as it could have – it seems to start and stop, rather like Manus’s beloved blue Jaguar. Not all the characters were likeable (Deirdre is an enigma that only starts being understandable as the story finishes) which is okay. But the ones I did like, such as Connie and Macdara, didn’t get enough page time to satisfy me. Perhaps fewer characters in greater depth would have made me happier or more reasoning as to why they acted how they did.

The Long, Hot Summer is a good book, but I had the feeling that something was missing to make it a great one.

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