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The relative harmony of Julie O'Hagan by Annette Sills

Annette Sills

Annette Sills was born in Wigan, Lancashire to parents from Co.Mayo, Ireland. Her short stories have been longlisted and shortlisted in a number of competitions including the Fish Short Story Prize and the Telegraph Short Story Club. Her first novel, The Relative Harmony of Julie O’Hagan was awarded a publishing contract with Rethink Press after it was shortlisted in their New Novels Competition 2014. Annette currently lives in Manchester with her husband and two children.

The Relative Harmony of Julie O’Hagan

Julie O’Hagan is worried. It’s time for daughter Bridget to start school. The ordinary Manchester suburb where Julie was raised is not that ordinary any more. Organic eateries and wine bars have opened everywhere and the Broccoli Brigade have moved in, education and media vegetarian types in beanie hats with hummus guzzling kids who are taking up all the places at Broadoak the best primary.

Husband Billy is loving, clever and looks like an Irish Jim Morrison but he is prone to depression and mood swings. He is adamant Bridget will not go to St. Joseph’s, the local Catholic school, and Julie is equally determined she will not end up in Priory Road, her old primary.

The hunt for a school for Bridget triggers memories of school days for both Billy and Julie. This is the story of their struggle to make sense of what happened to them in the past.

Review

The squeeze on primary school places is topical. Manchester based writer, Annette Sills, whose parents hail from County Mayo skilfully weaves this and a number of other themes in her book, ‘The Relative Harmony of Julie O’Hagan’ about Julie and Billy O’Hagan’s struggle to get their daughter, Bridget, into a good school – and one they agree on.

The novelist was deservedly shortlisted in the 2014 Rethink New Novels Competition.  The story is cleverly told in alternate chapters from the perspective of both Julie, second generation Irish and Billy from Galway. Each harbours secrets and the pressures of modern day living weigh heavily. Yet, there is humour as they jointly despise the ‘Broccoli Brigade’ who have infiltrated the ordinary suburb where Julie was raised, pushing up house prices and taking up the coveted school places.

As a reader, I felt empathy with both parents as their evident love for one another was dented by economic hardship and malevolence from others.  The author was unafraid to tackle hard hitting and contemporary problems such as child abuse, very much to the fore as victims are encouraged to come forward today and reveal past suffering.

Despite the gravity of some of the themes, I felt a sense that the woman in the title was finding strength and that green shoots of recovery were possible helped by a healing visit to her late mother’s native Ireland. A well observed story, recommended by Irish Spectrum Radio.

 

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