Love and law collide in travel writer Muriel Bolger's new novel
Love, law and the French countryside combine in Dublin author and travel writer Muriel Bolger's latest novel. Jenny Lee finds out more
SIBLING rivalry, domestic abuse, bigamy, grief, dementia, relationship woes and the worlds of law, tabloid press and private golf clubs all collide in Dublin writer Muriel Bolger's new novel Family Business.
Well known as a travel writer, Muriel once again incorporates an element of travel in her novel, as the main character Anne struggles with difficult decisions in love, law and loyalty when an unexpected French inheritance tempts her to risk everything she has worked so hard for.
Young, clever and accomplished, Anne is fully committed to her career at her father's law practice – much to the delight of her parents and the not-so-hidden resentment of her younger sister Gabby. She doesn't have time to think of her dreams of art college, or, indeed, the lack of love in her life.
Then Anne finds herself facing charismatic barrister Daniel Hassett in court. Equally ambitious, they seem to be the perfect match. But just as Anne and Daniel's relationship heats up, a series of shocking events force Anne to question what she really wants.
Family Business is Muriel's sixth novel. In addition to her works of fiction she has also written four books on her native city, including Dublin – City of Literature, which won the Travel Extra Travel Guide Book of the Year 2012.
Although she was an avid reader from a very young age, who "read everything" in her local library and used the staff discount from her summer job in Easons on O’Connell Street when she was a student to amass a mini-library, she didn't "fall in" to journalism until the age of 40.
Following an unexpected marriage break-up, she did a six-month-long course called Women Into Writing and managed to secure a first-person column in Dublin's Evening Press newspaper. She also secured work writing about her time shadowing Dublin's mayor, and after being invited on Ryanair's inaugural flight from Dublin to Paris, she found herself mingling with a who's who of the southern press. After filling up her contact book, she quickly established herself as a travel journalist.
Although she didn't go through life as an angst-ridden author, Muriel has been part of a local writing group for 30 years, meeting every fortnight. But it wasn't until she read a short story of her own to the group, and they agreed it had the potential to be developed into a novel, that she started thinking about fiction writing.
“Everybody has a story. My only regret is that I didn’t start writing earlier in life," laughs Muriel, who still has to pinch herself when she sees her own titles on the bookshelves.
Muriel admits that she doesn't have a writing routine.
"You don't need disciple for fiction. I go off on flights of fantasy," she laughs.
Her first novel, Consequences, which takes readers through the fallout from a holiday in Spain to the EU headquarters, was written entirely during press trips on her laptop.
"I like to put in a sense of place in all my books," says Muriel, who incorporates travel and locations into all her novels. Intentions weaves the contrasts of life in India through one of the central characters, who came to Dublin to study medicine. The Captain’s Table is set on a luxury liner and The Pink Pepper Tree has a Portuguese connection.
Family Business takes the reader from Dublin to French Provence, an area Muriel personally loves holidaying in.
"I love the old-world feel of Provence, where the people aren’t as materialistic. They are happy to have old pieces of lace and ornaments with chips in them in their homes. Also the wine and food,” she laughs.
Like the character Anne in Family Business, Muriel paints for pleasure.
"It’s a real hit-or-miss affair. I’m a dabbler in watercolours, but I absolutely love it," says Muriel, who brought along her paints and palette when she stayed at a restored farmhouse owned by some French friends near Aix en Provence last summer.
Keen to point out she doesn't have any sisters herself, she describes her latest novel, Family Business, as being the story of “jealousy between two sisters”.
Grimacing at the term chic-lit, Muriel believes her novels fit more within the category of current fiction.
"It’s about the Ireland of today," says Muriel, who deals with many topical issues within the novel, from equality to caring for relatives with Alzheimer's.
Although in her career as a journalist she only reported from the law courts on a few occasions, she admits the legal world, within which the book is set, "fascinates her".
"There is so much red tape. And it raises so many questions of how ethically solicitors can defend people who are indefensible, particularly within family law.”
She also addresses gender stereotyping and the judgment made about a woman trying to succeed in the perceived male world of law.
Muriel counts it as a privilege that during their early years she was a full-time mum to her three children, Glenn, Jillian and Graham.
"Life is so much harder now for young women today. Women nowadays have far more materially, but less quality. My daughter has three children herself and is constantly being pulled in all directions and running here and there."
The sensitive subject of death and grief is also tenderly covered.
"I work grief into most of my books. Grief has hit my own life on a number of occasions. I’ve lost a lot of close friends to cancer – too many," she says.
Muriel names Switzerland, the Iguazu Falls, Argentina and the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro as her favourite places to have visited. Already this year she has visited France twice, Holland, Belgium and Morocco, the last being the location for the start of her seventh novel, which she is currently writing.
:: Family Business by Muriel Bolger is published by Hachette Ireland and is out now.