A funny and sobering exploration of mother, daughter and Alzheimer's disease

 

Book of the Day: Missing You AlreadyBy Pauline McLynn Headline Review 308pp, £12.99 -         I HAD never read a Pauline McLynn novel before, but, as a fan of her TV and theatre work, I thought I knew what was in store when I picked up Missing You Alreadyjust after Christmas: madcap hilarity and as much good old-fashioned tomfoolery as could be crammed between the covers for starters, writes Niamh Greene

I was expecting light-hearted fun, frolics and high jinx. I wasn't expecting to have my heart strings violently tugged or to be gripped by a feverish urge to whip through the text as fast as humanly possible. But that's what happened, because, after the first few pages, my selection box had been abandoned (a very serious turn of events), I was reading manically and all my expectations had been neatly upended. This, McLynn's seventh novel, is not slapstick. It has comedic moments for sure, many of which had me guffawing out loud, but it's also a touching, poignant read that sometimes left me breathless with raw emotion, snuffling unashamedly into my Kleenex and ignoring the fact my nearest and dearest were using my distraction to plunder my treasured chocolate stash.

The story begins simply enough. Kitty Fulton runs the ticket office at the railway station in the remote Norfolk village of Pennick, a quiet town "on the way to somewhere else". It's the quiet ones you have to watch out for, of course, and McLynn illustrates this point wonderfully from the start. With a soothing, rhythmic prose littered with wry humour, she slowly reveals exactly what is going on behind closed doors.

Kitty has allowed herself to get stuck in Pennick because she wants to be close to the love of her life, a man who married her former best friend. But Kitty has other sorrows too, not least of which is caring for her beloved mother, May, who is in the deadly grip of Alzheimer's disease. Only Kitty's pet project - reuniting lost objects left at the train station with their rightful owners - gives her life a degree of comfort and meaning. It soon becomes clear, though, it is really Kitty herself who is lost. Trapped as much by the love triangle that is slowly strangling her as by the crushing worry of caring for her ailing mother, Kitty feels as if she is slowly disappearing, being "cancelled out by a greedy disease that takes more than one person when it comes".

McLynn speaks from the heart when she lays bare the truth of Alzheimer's: her descriptions of the ruthless and irreverent onset and the consequences for Kitty and May are so beautifully drawn, rallying as they do between hope, despair, acceptance and back again that they had me gulping back tears of sorrow and horror.

Kitty longs to organise her mother's disease into a manageable thing but, of course, "life is untidy and plays by slippery rules that change without warning". May's body and mind are betraying her, she is slipping away from her daughter and Kitty can't call a halt to it, no matter how much she wants to. As May loses her grip on the present, becoming almost a pared-back version of herself, she retreats more and more in her mind to her Irish childhood of years ago.

These vivid snapshots of May's past were among my favourite passages: alternately funny and sobering, they were so well-crafted I read them twice, sometimes three times.

In Missing You Already, McLynn bravely tackles some serious subjects with sensitivity, honesty and intelligence. It is an insightful and ultimately uplifting novel from a talented writer, and reading her back catalogue of work is now top of my list of new year's resolutions.

• Niamh Greene's new novel, Letters to a Love Rat, will be published by Penguin Ireland in May