When Marianne’s carefully constructed life and marriage fall apart, she is forced to return to Ancaire, the ramshackle seaside house perched high on a cliff by the Irish Sea. There she must rebuild her relationship with her mother, Rita, a flamboyant artist and recovering alcoholic who lives by her own rules.
Marianne left home when she was fifteen following a traumatic and tragic incident. She never planned to return, and now she has to face the fact that some plans don’t work out the way you wanted them to. But she might just discover that, sometimes, you have to come to terms with the story of your past before you can work out the shape of the future…
Set on the wild Irish coast, with an unforgettable cast of characters, this deeply emotional novel is full of Ciara Geraghty’s trademark heart and poignancy.
Having read and enjoyed Ciara Geraghty’s books in the past, I went into this story fully expecting to love it too. I was not prepared for how much Marianne’s tale would capture me, keep me enthralled, and make me think.
On the surface, this is the story about a woman coming to terms with the unexpected demise of her marriage and the troubled relationship with her mother, and that would have made an interesting story.
Scratch that surface just a little, and you’ll find so much more. Marianne put her feelings on hold when she was a teenager. From that moment forward her decisions have been based on practical considerations rather than emotions. It was safe and, for some time, her distant approach to life and connections worked. She seemed to have it all: a practical husband who appeared to be as eager as she was to keep emotions at bay, a good and safe job, a beautiful house, furnished to her exact and unexciting standards. She’s created an environment in which she can pretend she is fine, her life is good, and the past is an ugly but distant memory.
When her house of cards falls apart, Marianne crumbles too. With all her securities torn away she has no choice but to return to the past, the house, and the mother, she’s avoided for more than half her life.
Going home for Marianne is like returning to the setting of a nightmare. Back at Ancaire (Anker—such an appropriate name), Marianne doesn’t try to be nice or take care of herself. She resents others trying to take care of her and puts as much distance between herself and her mother’s life as she can, given they’re sharing a house and her mother’s full-on approach to life.
Between Rita’s joie de vivre, the mixed bag of characters that make up Rita’s group of recovering alcoholics, and a persistent dog, Marianne appears to be coming back from the brink. Almost against her wishes, Marianne finds herself getting involved with causes and interested in people again. Until a shocking discovery throws her back to what appears to be square one.
This story packs a punch, yet it is written so well and so smoothly that the reader could almost miss that rather than an angry and selfish woman, Marianne is a lost soul who has struggled with depression ever since she was fifteen—for so long, in fact, that she doesn’t recognise her actions and reactions as a mental health issue.
For a very long time, Marianne reads as an unsympathetic main character whereas her mother appears to be a bundle of joy. And that’s where the beauty of this story comes fully to light. Because nothing is that simple and, just as Marianne is pulled out of her self-isolation almost against her wishes and in barely perceptible steps, I was surprised to find myself first sympathising with her and then understanding her actions and thoughts. This story and the characters in it are real and raw. They crawled their way under my skin. I wasn’t just interested in how their story might end, I was invested in their journey and its outcome.
I love that the book didn’t end on miracles. Instead, we’re given a scattering of possibilities, glimmers of hope, and potential futures. And while the above may make you think that Make Yourself at Home is a heavy and possibly depressing read, the opposite is through. Marianne’s darkest moments are balanced by the very mixed and mostly unfiltered company she keeps. For every painful experience, there is at least one laugh-out-loud moment. And Marianne’s journey is not only beautiful to behold but inspirational too.
Long story short: Make Yourself at Home is an amazing read. It will make you think and feel, but most of all, it will ultimately lift you up and leave you with a satisfied smile on your face. This book is exactly what I needed to fight my 18-month long reading slump.