Sinead Moriarty is fast becoming one of my favourite novelists, due to her wit, her writing style and her ability to create both believeable characters and storylines. Having read a couple of her other books and loved them, I noticed in my local library this more recent book of hers 'Pieces of my Heart'. Although I predominately love chick lit books, Sinead Moriarty manages to combine both some elements of romance and love, alongside read life everyday events that will ring home with a wide range of people.
This particular book focuses on another Irish family, with the central character being Ava, who is feeling increasingly overwhelmed by her husband Paul's workaholic lifestyle, where he runs his own pub, her rather eccentric father Charlie who ends up living with them for a few months whilst he awaits for the completion of his new apartment, her best friend who isn't married and seems to have no luck in meeting the right men, and then her two daughters, Sarah and Ali (Alison), two complete opposites!
Ava and her best friend Sally run a party company organising parties for children and teenagers and it has become very successful. From the beginning of the book however, it is clear that she is just going through the motions when it comes to her marriage, as her and her husband hardly spend any time together and the romance seems to have gone out of their relationship. However, it is difficult when he is constantly at work, and she is therefore left to contend with all the other household grievances and ups and downs. Her father Charlie, has just buried his second wife, who was a bitter alcholic and with his freedom regained, he now beings to show a rather eccentric side by chasing any passing female, regardless of their age or background, even the house cleaner isn't safe! Despite all of her fathers antics, Ava is pretty confident that her daughters have their feet firmly planted on the ground, that is until heartache attacks one of them, and leads to a very trying time. Her eldest daughter Alison, who was the clever academic child, having been dumped by her boyfriend for a thinner new girl at school, starts to become increasingly reclusive and acting very strange, that is until Ava discovers that she has anorexia, and she desperately needs the right help before it becomes too late. She needs her husband's support however, and with him being so busy she finds herself trying to convince him of her daughters illness, but the question is whether this illness will tear the family apart or bring them closer together.
Moriarty touches on a very sensitive and difficult topic in the form of anorexia, and despite it being the major topic in 2/3 of the book, it never become too much in my view. It was never dragged out and the whole journey in terms of anorexia and its treatment was very interesting and in this case fast paced. Alongside this major storyline, there were several other sub story lines which gave the book enough variety to keep the reader totally enthralled, including Charlie has his much younger and pregnant Polish girlfriend who has moved herself into their home, as well as their other fiery daughter Sarah who speaks her mind at every opportunity.
What I particularly love about the way Moriarty writes is that when it comes to family relationships and conversations they are so realistic, including the nicknames, the banter and the gentle teasing that goes on. Daughter Sarah is entertaining, and there is a realism to every character within the book. The only thing I found strange, and unless I missed it, I don't think it was explained, was why Ava and her children called her father/grandfather by his actual name Charlie, although this is hardly a big deal.
All in all, despite the novel dealing with a hard and difficult topic, it is certainly not depressing to read. In fact the whole book is a joy to read and certainly a page turner. I enjoyed each and every character, every storyline that went on, and I thought the writing was brilliant!
You might think after reading just a few pages of 'Pieces of My Heart' by Sinead Moriarty that it is going to be a light easy read typical of much chic lit. However, do not be deceived as this book is anything but that. It does have its moments of light relief but it is a heart-felt emotional read that tackles the serious issue of eating disorders and it definitely had me in tears more than once!
The story centres on the Mullen family. Paul and Ava are both pretty successful, running their own pub and party business respectively. They have two teenage daughters - Ali, clever, hard working and co-operative, and Sarah, outspoken and confident. Out of the two, it is Sarah who has possibly caused them a few problems over the years but they have never had to worry about Ali. However, after the break up with her first serious boyfriend at the age of seventeen, and the public humiliation when he starts going out with another girl in her class, Ali starts to change. She becomes withdrawn and moody and also loses her appetite. At first Ava and Paul think that it is just a phase and she will soon get over it, but a couple of months down the line, they realise just how serious the situation is and how Ali is really very sick.
Meetings with doctors lead to Ali being admitted to a clinic that deals with eating disorders and from then on we watch the slow and painful attempts that Ali makes towards recovery. It is a very poignant read and one that really highlights what it means to live with someone who has anorexia. You cannot help but feel for all the family, particularly Ali's younger sister, Sarah, who is virtually ignored by her parents because they are so caught up in Ali's problems. Also, Ava and Paul realise that they have been neglecting their marriage and have stopped communicating and need to do something about that too.
It is fascinating to see how Ali's illness has a domino effect on all of the family. They are all brilliant characters and you do really feel that you get to know them through the story and I definitely found myself routing for things to turn out well for all of them. I was so caught up in the story myself, that I found that I could not put it down and read the entire book (430 pages) in just over two days.
As I mentioned at the start, there are some lighter moments and the book really needs these to save it from being too depressing and upsetting. Sinead Moriarty seems to get the balance between the lighter and more serious moments spot on. Much of the light relief is provided by Ava's dad, Charlie, who whilst temporarily staying with the family takes up with Nadia, a polish pole dancer who is about half his age! Also, some of the parties that Ava and her business partner Sally organise are a lot of fun too especially spoilt Annabelle's sweet sixteen party with its Moulin Rouge theme.
Overall. 'Pieces of My Heart' is a wonderful book that had me hooked from beginning to end. It is an extremely emotional read but there were also moments when I found myself laughing too. I can't rate it highly enough and is definitely as good as any of Sinead Moriarty's other books. It is definitely worth reading - and probably more than once.
The paperback is currently available on Amazon for only £4.49 (June 2011).
This review has previously appeared under my name at www.curiousbookfans.co.uk
The modern woman is a Jill of all trades . . . Ava is a wife, lover, mother, daughter, friend, fixer, boss ... so many different people, in fact, she no longer knows what it means to be herself. Not that anyone will let her - not her work-obsessed husband, nor her tearaway younger daughter, nor her out-of-control Dad, nor even her sassy-but-lonely best friend.
There's always someone wanting something from her.She's trying to do her best for all of them but lately feels like she can't make everyone happy. And that's before she discovers that her elder daughter Alison is in deep, deep trouble. Can Ava keep a hold of the most precious pieces of her heart? And what will happen if she loses one?
I quite liked the plot of Pieces of my Heart and the main focus of the plot is the fact Ava spends all of her time looking after everybody else. Her eccentric father moves into her house after his second wife dies, before inviting a Polish stripper into the house, too. Her best friend Sally is worried she'll never find a man and uses Ava to relay all her dating disaster stories to, Ava's own love life with her husband Paul is flagging and her two daughters are complete opposites of each other: Sarah is a bit of a wild child whereas Ali is quite and studious. And when Alison becomes anorexic, that takes up a lot of the plot focus, too.
As for the characters, I found them a real mixed bag. I liked Ava, in as much as you can like someone who lets her family and friends run all over her without a thought to her own life. I could see why she was the way she was, but I wanted her to take hold and be able to blow off steam herself for once. Paul, her husband, seemed negligent at best, leaving Ava to keep the family going whilst he spent time at his pub. Despite Sally, Ava's best friend, being a bit desperate, she was one of my favourite characters. I also loved Sarah, Ava and Paul's youngest daughter. Yes the way she was written was very teen-cliche, but she was hilarious. Along with her boyfriend Bobby they were quite the double act. I didn't particularly take to Ali, and I'll explain why a bit more later. Finally there's Charlie, Ava's father. He was very eccentric, but I thought he was sweet.
Pieces of my Heart is very well written. It's told from Ava's point of view, meaning that although we don't get a first-hand account of Ali's illness, we see how it affects the wider family. There's absolutely no doubt that Moriarty must have put a lot of research and time into getting Ali's illness correct and it came across as very well done as I read it, but I did at times find it a bit contrite. Because despite Ali starving herself and making herself anorexic, she did seem to blame it on everybody else. I've got absolutely no experience on eating disorders, and maybe blaming everyone around you is the norm but I just found it irritating. Much like Sarah, I just wanted to yell at Ali to stop being so selfish and just eat.
Overall, I did enjoy Pieces of my Heart. It had a nice cast of characters, it kept me reading because despite everything I felt about Ali's illness I did want her to get better, or at least see if she was able to overcome it in any way. I also found Sarah added some much needed light relief during the book because sometimes the heart-to-hearts got a little too long-winded and Sarah and Bobby were the perfect anti-dote to that. Sinead Moriarty definitely gets to the heart of the story, there's no doubt about that and I applaud the fact she doesn't shy away from using difficult, sometimes taboo, topics in her novels. Sinead is a huge talent in Chick Lit and long may she continue to publish novels.