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Review: Stand by Me by Sheila OFlanagan

stand by me sheila oflanagan Review: Stand by Me by Sheila OFlanagan

When caterer Lizzie, laden down with all manner of desserts with names involving nasalised vowels and silent letters, finds herself face to face with Domino Delahaye, one half of the Dazzling Delahayes, as they're known by the once fond but now frenzied media, she wills herself to retain a professional facade. To keep from asking the questions that have been raised by journalists, lawyers, and the incurably curious public. This is a task complicated when Domino gives her a conspiratorial grin and notes that she's throwing a divorce party. To her credit, Lizzie manages to escape with her professionalism intact. The reader, however, has no such worries about appearing polite'after all, we're voyeurs by nature. Who is Domino Delahaye, and what exactly has she done?

Best-selling Irish author Sheila O'Flanagan knows how to hook a reader, and she does so swimmingly in'Stand By Me, her most recent release. Having teased us with the fragment above, she takes an extended but superbly plotted detour, introducing us to a slightly lesser version of Dazzling Domino, one who bears the rather more traditional name of Dominique, and is clad not in a carefully tailored Chanel dress, but in all the most preposterous glories of the 1980s. Dominique, however, is not just a child of the 80s'she is also the child of two painfully severe Irish Catholic parents whose disappointment in her post-school efforts in Dublin, which comprise waitressing at a burger joint and cirrhosis-inducing amounts of alcohol, is magnified to impressive proportions by her older brother's decision to become a man of the cloth, which his parents consider a proud and newsworthy moment. Not to be outdone in terms of newsworthiness, however, Dominique decides to put her tenuous grasp of sex education to the test with Brendan, a young builder who is quite taken with this girl who shimmies about in white plastic glasses and a ceiling-grazing bouffant (or perhaps in spite of these attributes). However, as those of us familiar with Murphy's Law well know, if something bad can happen, it will, and it's not long before poor Dominique finds herself being punished, as her mother might point out, for her premarital shenanigans'at barely eighteen, she finds herself pregnant.

However, despite the disapproval of Dominique's parents, who rather feel that prevention is better than cure, Brendan proposes to Dominique, or Domino, as shes now known, and the two quickly marry. Brendan, with no shortage of plans for the future, promptly buys up the overgrown block of land on which their young bubs was conceived (a not entirely unromantic gesture, one supposes), builds a house on it, and delights in telling Domino that this is the first of many to come. And he keeps to his word: sick of working for The Man, Brendan sets out on his own, and its not long before hes knee-deep in scaffolding and concrete slabs (not literally, of coursethis isnt a mafia novel). Though he has the drive, however, Brendan is somewhat lacking in terms of managing the day-to-day financial affairs of the business, and Dominique steps up, helping ensure that the red parts of the ledger dont overwhelm the black. The combined factors of Brendans drive and Dominiques pragmatism soon pay off, and its not long before Brendan swaps his overalls for designer suits, and Dominique her chain-store clothing for one-off pieces. 'The Delahayes promptly become the darlings of the social circuit, and theyre building their society contacts almost as quickly as they are enormous condominiums and vast shopping malls. But unfortunately these lofty times cant continue indefinitely, and Domino wakes one morning to find that her husband has vanished, leaving her and her now teenaged daughter Kelly with spiralling debts and gossipy rumours.

Curiously, the back cover copy of the book implies that this is the crux of the novel, when really it is a turning point that occurs within the last hundred pages or so. Stand By Me isnt about a wife doggedly ignoring her husbands infidelities and creative accounting. Its not about picking up the pieces of a crumbling marriage and running into the arms of another man. The book, for all its chicklittish humour and chortling about woeful fashions of the past, is a surprisingly graceful creation dealing in-depth with notions of responsibility, of thankfulness, of independence, of self-worth, and of the pernicious influence of external expectation. OFlanagan deftly deals with these themes, and more, doing so largely through the contrasting positions of her characters, all of whom are surprisingly well-drawn and real. While Domino is inevitably given the greatest prominence, OFlanagan uses her minor characters to deal with a number of sensitive issues: entitlement, infidelity, religion, just to name a few, and though I wont spend much time on these, for the most part they are beautifully elucidated. There are a few plot points that seem a little strained, but generally the supporting characters are 'finely wrought and enjoyable to read, and their stories intertwine nicely with Dominos.

While the paparazzi and society scene may see Domino as simply the two definitions of her name: one who has conquered, and one who has fallen, OFlanagan avoids painting her protagonist in such a way. Domino is in no way the Stepford Wife she might appear to be upon first impression, but is rather the product of a number of complex, accumulating forces and experiences. In some ways she seems to be reliant on Brendan, acquiescing to him out of a sense of moral obligationhe did, after all, rescue her from the gloomy prospects of single motherhood in conservative 1980s Dublin, and looked after her during a dark period of postnatal depression. Brendan, though, has always referred to Domino as his lucky charm, and from her early intervention in the business finances to her later role as the Dazzling Mrs Delahaye, and one cant help, even in the early pages, but wonder whether its Brendan who would be lost without Domino.

Indeed, the way in which Domino reacts to her husbands betrayal is beautifully depicted: though she struggles with the sudden partial loss of her identity, and from the sheer strangeness of having suddenly broken a twenty-year habit,'Domino takes a pragmatic approach to his disappearance, getting their affairs in order to the best of her ability and taking a job. While its not so simple as simply moving on, one cant help but feel that Domino is enjoying at last being given the opportunity to live her own life, and to make her own decisions. After all, its not that she is incompetent or without driveas she points out, she was working when she met Brendan, and she has since become well-known for her charity workbut rather that she has not been in the position to be able to do so. But one cant help whether her pregnancy and subsequent depression, both of which were all-consuming themes of the early part of their relationship, were perhaps 'a signal to Brendan that she is someone to be looked after and protected, and that he has taken it upon himself to ensure that she is never in a position to have to fend for herself. In so doing, he has ensured that she is dependent on him, much as he is dependent on her. Its quite a chilling thought, and all the more so as the novel reaches its conclusion and the reader is able to reflect on the complexity of events and influences that have resulted in Domino ending up where she isin a small, rented house, wearing a Chanel dress from several seasons ago, throwing a divorce partybut, as Lizzie the caterer is told in those opening pages, a divorce party for someone else

Rating: star Review: Stand by Me by Sheila OFlanaganstar Review: Stand by Me by Sheila OFlanaganstar Review: Stand by Me by Sheila OFlanaganstar Review: Stand by Me by Sheila OFlanaganblankstar Review: Stand by Me by Sheila OFlanagan

With thanks to Headline Review for the Review copy.

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