A History of Running Away by Paula McGrath

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A History of Running Away by Paula McGrath

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 2/5
Reviewer: Phil Lewis
Reviewed by Phil Lewis
Summary: A tale of runaways spanning the US, Ireland and London. Starting with promise, it quickly descends into a confusing mixture of women's boxing, cliché and aggressive self-improvement. A struggle.
Buy? No Borrow? No
Pages: 256 Date: June 2017
Publisher: John Murray
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1473641785

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There's a point early on in Paula McGrath's novel where I had that pleasant feeling of discovering a new, exciting author who was going to take me in a multitude of different directions. This feeling is fading fast after 40 pages. By 60 pages I'm scrabbling around for redeeming features - maybe some of the characters introduced earlier who have all mysteriously disappeared will reappear and administer life support. After 100 pages all hope is lost and I just want to finish the damn thing.

A History of Running Away supposedly tells three stories of women running away. The one that gets far and away most airtime is Jasmine, a young Irish girl who leaves her alcoholic mother behind in early 1980s Ireland and heads to London. After a wholly unrealistic set of encounters with some cardboard cut-out gangsters, she flees again, this time to Dublin, where she strikes up a friendship with boxer/medical student/all round saint George. He takes Jasmine on a few runs, introduces her to boxing and generally improves her as a person if not as a character.

Now, there are meant to be two other stories interwoven with Jasmine's. This is how the novel starts. And it does start quite well. Both set in 2012 - one a Dublin gynaecologist dealing with her elderly mother, and one an American girl who on losing her mother discovers grandparents she never knew she had. How the former runs away is pretty abstract, something about a new job, while the latter joins a biker gang and rides west.

If you're thinking I haven't really done justice to the last two stories, that's because the author doesn't either. After the promising start, I'm genuinely curious about what will happen to Alison, the American, and mildly curious about what will happen to Jasmine. The problems start when the author seemingly forgets completely that she's meant to be telling three stories. From page 54 to page 174, there is absolutely no mention of Alison. None whatsoever. The Irish gynaecologist gets a token two pages every now and then to complain about abortion law, and then it's back to Jasmine and her running boxing and bookmaking.

Now, this would be fine if Jasmine's story was well plotted and interesting. But it is none of these things. It's tedious, and clearly a vehicle for the author's love of boxing and passionate belief in women becoming involved in the sport. Which is fine - I agree (although I'm not surprised) that it was unfair for women's boxing to be illegal in early 1980s Ireland. But this only works if it comes out as part of a bigger, more interesting plot. Which it doesn't. Plot and structure become secondary to the author's love of manic self-improvement, making point after point about how great it is to go running and exercise. I know this, I am a runner myself. But aggressive evangelising does not make for good fiction. I honestly stopped caring.

All of this would perhaps be forgivable if it was well written. But it isn't. Most of the dialogue is wooden, some borders on crude stereotyping. The author has a habit of making mildly interesting inferences, then spending a paragraph explaining in detail what the reader already knows. Somewhat unsurprisingly, this kills any pace the plot may have been picking up.

The best thing I can say about this book is that the first 50 pages or so are genuinely interesting, and set up the rest of the book well. Unfortunately, the author then seemingly forgets this groundwork and instead writes a poor version of an inspirational story found in back issues of a women's boxing magazine.

For further reading, we can recommend A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks, The Cure by Rachel Genn or Rockadoon Shore by Rory Gleeson. We also have a review of Generation by Paula McGrath.

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Buy A History of Running Away by Paula McGrath at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A History of Running Away by Paula McGrath at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy A History of Running Away by Paula McGrath at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A History of Running Away by Paula McGrath at Amazon.com.


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