30 Sep After Dad by Claire Shiells
A thoughtful exploration of unresolved grief
Millie Malone has a lot on her mind. She’s flying home to Northern Ireland from London after two long years away.
Ostensibly, it’s to visit her widowed mother, but Millie is also fleeing the heartbreak of a termination she felt forced into making by her partner.
Now she’s conflicted about her feelings for him, and needs time and space to heal her wounds.
But Millie has older, unresolved wounds, too, dating back to the murder of her father by the IRA. Her life should be coloured by happy childhood memories but always the shadow of Dad’s death looms over the past and present for Millie, her mum and six siblings.
A visit to their seaside family cottage in Donegal evokes the past sharply for Millie but also brings hope for the future when she comes into contact with Finn McFall, a poet, fisherman and artist. Millie finds herself falling under his spell.
But even Finn’s charms can’t distract her from the fact there is something rotten going on in the small seaside town. What malign influence does local landowner Cathal Quinn exert over the locals? Why is migrant fisherman Ashmal always covered in bruises? Is there criminal activity going on?
Millie’s journalistic senses are set a-quiver as she determines to find out what is going on …
And so After Dad quickly becomes a multi-layered story with several plots and themes.
There’s the theme of grief, as exemplified by Millie’s dad’s tragic death and the loss of her own unborn child. Millie can’t move on until she comes to terms with both these things.
Next is the theme of conflict. The aftermath of the Troubles still loom large in this Northern Irish tale, and now there is a different kind of trouble, with the unjust treatment of economic migrants focusing the readers’ attention.
But for me the overwhelming, most interesting and passionate theme is the loss of innocence. A happy family was fractured by a father’s untimely death, childhood memories are now marred by the knowledge of what was to come. People and relationships are irrevocably changed.
Millie’s unborn baby is almost a metaphor for the death of innocence, and Ashmal, too, represents it strongly – he had to leave behind all he loved in Syria and his future looks bleak for now.
These are all strong, often violent themes and yet this story is in no way upsetting or depressing.
Rich, atmospheric prose conjures up a sense of the real Ireland that Millie so often feels she has lost, in the mist and hills, the colourful boats in the sea, the turf fires of the country pubs, the ceilidh sessions where Finn takes centre stage.
The romance is beautiful, slow-burning and true, but with an edge that always makes you wonder if Finn and Millie can ever have a future together. Especially as they are from either side of the divide.
And Millie is such a strong and passionate woman. Though her vulnerabilities drive the story, she never fully falters, and steps up to the plate when it is needed, just as her father did before her.
He died because he would not sacrifice his principles nor his love for his fellow man, and in so many ways, Millie is his worthy successor.
She just has to learn to love and forgive herself.
After Dad by Claire Shiells is published by The Book Guild Ltd in paperback and ebook
About the Author
Claire Shiells grew up in rural Northern Ireland during the Troubles where she had the best of times and the worst of times. She calls herself Northern Irish except on St Patrick’s Day when she is inexplicably full on Top-Of-The-Morning-To-You Irish. Claire now lives in London and in her last life (before the longest maternity leave ever) was a journalist and magazine editor. After Dad is inspired by a true event and is her first novel.
Thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me on this blogtour and to publishers The Book Guild Limited for the copy of the book.
Catch up with the rest of the blogtour at the links on the poster