Title: A Greyhound of a Girl
Author: Roddy Doyle
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Publisher: Amulet/ Marion Lloyd
Publication date: May 1st 2012
Hardcover: 208 pages
Mary O’Hara is a sharp and cheeky 12-year-old Dublin schoolgirl who is bravely facing the fact that her beloved Granny is dying. But Granny can’t let go of life, and when a mysterious young woman turns up in Mary’s street with a message for her Granny, Mary gets pulled into an unlikely adventure. The woman is the ghost of Granny’s own mother, who has come to help her daughter say good-bye to her loved ones and guide her safely out of this world. She needs the help of Mary and her mother, Scarlett, who embark on a road trip to the past. Four generations of women travel on a midnight car journey. One of them is dead, one of them is dying, one of them is driving, and one of them is just starting out.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley
Why did I read this book: I really loved the sound of this one especially this part: “Four generations of women travel on a midnight car journey. One of them is dead, one of them is dying, one of them is driving, and one of them is just starting out.” That’s what made me want to read it.
Cheeky Mary O’Hara is a 12-year-old from Dublin whose beloved granny, Emer, is dying. Mary and her mother Scarlett visit Emer every day and each day take its toll on all of them. Then one day, when coming back from school, Mary meets a mysterious young-old woman named Tansey who turns out to be the ghost of Emer’s mother and who has come to help her daughter’s passing. The four generations of women embark on a short road trip of remembrance: “One of them is dead, one of them is dying, one of them is driving, and one of them is just starting out”.
Greyhound of a Girl is a short and sweet story that doesn’t go much beyond the above summary in terms of plot. Much of the book is written in dialogue and it follows these four women – both in the past and in present – as each comes to grip with their own story. At each end of the spectrum lie Tansey and Emer: Tansey’s life heartbreakingly short ( she died of influenza when Emer was barely 3 years old) and Emer’s long and fruitful. What connect all four are their zest for living and their love for each other. It is a beautiful book full of moving, funny moments and I was completely charmed by it. I loved how their lives were connected and how each woman had a different voice and narrative momentum and I liked how they were immersed in their own separate memories as well as in memories of each other (when possible, Mary had no interaction with her great-grandmother before meeting her ghost). I was particularly fond of Mary and Scarlett’s banter:
“Great idea!” said her mother.
“Stop talking like that,” said Mary.
“Oh, no!” said her mother, whose name was Scarlett. “I don’t talk like that! Do I?!”
“Yes, you do.”
“I’m sorry!” Scarlett whispered.
“Even your whispers end in !!!s,” Mary whispered back.
(OK. So let’s just pretend that all of us can hear /read exclamation marks as though they are words.)
For such a short story, written mostly in dialogue, it is amazing how vivid a portrait the author has painted of these four women’s lives – I loved it and was brought to tears many times over the course of the story.
That said a couple of things did give me pause.
Although I loved the fact that A Greyhound of a Girl is a book about the connection between these four female characters, I had the feeling that this sort of connection between women of a family was presented as something intrinsically feminine or that only women can “get” because of you know…emotions. There was a blatant refusal for example to tell Mary’s brothers about the ghost of their great-grandmother. These boys – two teenagers – are presented as emotionally stunted and incapable of showing emotional support of any kind because …boys will be boys? Mary’s brothers never go to the hospital to visit their grandmother whereas Mary goes every single day. Similarly in each of these women’s past there is something that separates the “feminine” and the “masculine”. Tansey’s father was a “difficult” man. Her baby son (Emer’s baby brother) never got married because he couldn’t have brought another woman to live in his farm as long as his grandmother lived. Tansey herself only stuck around as a ghost because of her daughter because she felt she would be needed and that her son doesn’t need help at all, it seems. (It’s like: mothers have a special connection with daughters? I think my mother in law missed that memo.)
This sounded really strange to me and it is as though by excluding this sort of parental/filial emotional connection from the males of their family, they are explicitly saying that this sort of emotional connection is specifically feminine and that guys would not understand it – separating feminine and masculine into separate spheres. I find that really problematic and therefore worth a mention here. Ultimately, I really enjoyed the book and found it to be a truly moving tale regardless of that.
Notable Quotes/ Parts:
”Never talk to strangers,” she’d always been told.
“But that’s stupid,” she’d said, a few years ago.
“Why is stupid?” her mother asked.
“Did you know dad when you met him?” said Mary.
“So he was a stranger.”
“But – “
“And you spoke to him,” said Mary. “So if, like, nobody spoke to strangers, nobody would meet and get married and the human race would, like, cease to exist.
Rating: a solid 6 – Good
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