The Coast Road by Alan Murrin

Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve

A small community in 1990s Ireland is the backdrop of Alan Murrin’s first novel, The Coast Road. Its focus is on three women’s battle with lives constrained by having to deal with their country’s law which made divorce illegal even in the face of challenging marriages.

Colette, a passionate, uncompromising character is the catalyst that ignites the unfolding drama that ensues. She returns to her roots where she had left her husband, Shaun, and three sons to be with her lover in Dublin. She rents a dilapidated cottage adjoining Dolores and Donal’s property and  sets up a creative writing class which Izzy and Dolores attend. Her presence and the writing process stir the depths of their own lives and relationships with their husbands.

Dolores,  mother of four and pregnant again, is trapped in her marriage to Donal who openly pursues other women and sleeps with Colette on a nightly basis.

Izzy Keaveney is controlled by a selfish and politically ambitious husband, James. She befriends Colette and contrives to arrange meetings of Colette with her youngest son, still at school.

All three women emerge vividly from the page. Alan Murrin has created characters that are achingly real and their attempts to cope in the difficult situations that beset them makes his book as gripping as a thriller. He captures them with the finely observed minutiae of their lives.

One man, the parish priest, Brian, proves to be a true friend. Non-judgmental, kind and perceptive, he listens to them and guides them in arriving at conclusions to handle issues.

Dolores longs to reopen a little shop, but her husband is disparaging and forbids it.

Izzy is considering whether to leave James –  leave her comfortable existence in exchange for freedom and the tough life of a single parent in an Ireland choked by laws that inflict a lifetime of unhappy marriage on, mostly, women.

For this, his first novel, Alan Murrin has written a near flawless work. Life in a small community in Donegal, wild and remote, is beautifully realised. People are quick to fracture reputations with gossip and scandal, ready to judge or jump to conclusions.  This stranglehold cannot help but affect lives within, as in the stage which highlights the dilemma that faced a pregnant woman.  Dolores, not wanting a fifth child, cannot contemplate abortion. Colette knows only an escape to England is a possible solution to her pregnancy should she take that route.

Love and desire, prejudice and ignorance shape the lives of these people and inevitably lead to complex situations that demand courage and compromise.

Some may criticise the ending; that perhaps it does not do justice to these lives so brilliantly portrayed. It borders on the melodramatic.

It must be remembered that the three main characters are so entwined that a differing resolution could be problematic. The quietly powerful drama of their lives demands a climax such as the author has decided befits their story. The Coast Road will win many more devoted admirers of extraordinary Irish fiction.

The Coast Road


by Alan Murrin


ISBN 978 152666 369 6

$32.99; 310pp



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