Book Review – ‘The Neverlands’ by Damhnait Monaghan

I purchased a copy of this book from the publisher.

The Neverlands is a tightly woven mini novella-in-flash that follows an Irish family struggling in poverty and its related darknesses. Damhnait Monaghan’s interconnected stories run the full gamut of emotion, moving back and forth across two points of view to create a stunning, layered collection.

Nuala is caught in the crossfire of her parents’ disintegrating relationship; she desperately wants to believe the best of her father, but the evidence stacks up that he hasn’t earned that privilege. Her relationship with her mother is strained, as the two of them wrestle with the impact Seamus O’Riordan has had on their lives. Each tells their story in fragments, and the narrative weaves back and forth between the two in order to have each layer add to the ones before it. The scene is set in the opening story:

Nuala wants to fix things even though Mammy says there’s no fixing Da. She daren’t tell Mammy about the wall though. Sure maybe Mammy’s the one who done it?

The tension simmers immediately, and ascends towards boiling point as the tale progresses. 

Where Nuala is crushed by her mother’s seemingly heartless attitude, the following vignettes recast the situation in a new light, as Mammy recalls the painful moments she strove to protect Nuala from, and reflects on the past that’s led her to this moment. There is a glimpse here of the pain and yearning as Mammy wrestles with the stark reality of life for both of them:

You tell Nuala to stop with the nonsense and the light leaves her face and your arms are sore from wanting to hold her, but your feet are rooted to the ground.

The two struggle, alone and together, until a pivotal event shines light in the seemingly endless darkness of their lives. 

Damhnait Monaghan is an exceptional storyteller. This collection of stories is extremely tight and the narrative thread never wavers. Her use of voice is brilliant. Nuala’s stories are told in third person while Mammy’s are in second; this allows for Mammy’s tales to take on a more intimate, confessional tone which separates well from the childlike alignment of Nuala’s vignettes. In this way, Mammy becomes more relatable after Nuala’s initial framing of her as cold.

Monaghan chooses perfect details to drive the narrative and bring the conflicts, both external and internal, to life. In one story, Mammy sits at the fire and polishes her arguments. In another, You trace the sign of the cross on the soda bread though you’ve no faith left. The language is beautiful and haunting, a perfect blend of sadness, bitterness, and regret. “Good luck to you now, Nuala, because that dress brought me nothing but sorrow.”

The Neverlands is a wonderful story of sacrifice, love, and redemption. The journey is heartwrenching and tragic, but the moments of hope and salvation that shine through leave a sweet taste with the reader.

The Neverlands is available now from V. Press

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