Published in The Witness
Paula McGrath is making a name for herself in literary circles as someone to watch. A History of Running Away is her second novel, and is written with considerable assurance, despite a complicated structure.
There are three strands: two set in 2012 and one 30 years earlier; two in Ireland and one in America. Each has a female protagonist, and all of them are either actually escaping from something, or contemplating escape. One is an unnamed gynaecologist, angry at Ireland’s abortion laws and looking to move to London, a new job and a man who wants her there. But she is held back by her mother, old and suffering from dementia, and the guilt she still feels at having once run away from her before. Not that this time it is likely her mother will even notice.
Next is Ali, an American teenager who has been orphaned by the death of her single mother and is desperate to escape the stultifying life her previously unknown grandparents are mapping out for her. Hers is an escape fraught with danger and unwise choices.
Finally, back in 1982, Jasmine, having run away from her distant mother, her controlling uncle and her education, arrives in Dublin via a dangerous stay in London. Rootless but feisty, she discovers boxing – not allowed for women in the Ireland of the time – and hooks up with a Kenyan medical student who allows her to train with him. Jasmine is the most realised of the characters and the most endearing, and it is her story that is central to the development of the novel.
In the end, McGrath draws her three strands together – some of where she is going becomes pretty obvious, but that doesn’t really detract from the book. What the reader enjoys is not suspense, but story. My only quibble would be that the good characters – George the Kenyan, Jasmine’s upstairs neighbour Deano and the mother and daughter duo who rescue Ali – are so saintly that it is hard to believe in them. Even saints have to have the odd flaw, surely? But all in all, this is a satisfying and intelligent read.
- A History of Running Away by Paula McGrath
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