You could say that Aisling is back, but has she ever actually been gone? I’m sure you’ve seen glimpses of her on the way to work, Brown Thomas bag containing her lunch in one hand, Michael Kors tote containing her emergency lip gloss, spare pair of tights, wallet full of receipts to be filed later in the other. Or perhaps you’ve overheard her chatting with friends over a latte, passive aggressively giving out about the state of her boyfriend’s house-share, or humble-bragging after two glasses of pinot greej about having all her Christmas shopping done by the end of the January sales.
Aisling is everywhere, pounding the pavements to get her 10,000 steps in, querying the price of a jumper that has a thread loose, but can you tell that she’s been recently bereaved? Or that she’s worried about her future after being unexpectedly laid off? Or is questioning the quality and longevity of her relationship? This is where Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen come in, to shed light on a girl we all know superficially but, like anyone else, can’t possibly know what’s really going on beneath the capable, no nonsense surface.
When last we’ve had a deep dive into her life, in Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling, the first documentation of Aisling’s existence, she was reeling from the sad and untimely death of her beloved Daddy, and back on track with long-time boyfriend John after a brief but significant break. The Importance of Being Aisling takes place not long after the events of the first book, and like any every day, ordinary life, tumultuous, unforeseen events continue to throw off Aisling’s best laid plans.
Without giving away too much of the plot, circumstances lead to Aisling moving out of her lovely Dublin flat and back in with Mammy. In time honoured fashion, this sequel brings Aisling home, to reassess her priorities and make plans for her future. The story starts just before Christmas time, with Aisling busying herself as much as possible to distract herself from facing up to her family’s first Christmas without her father. The authors very sensitively address this universal experience without succumbing to melodrama – it’s a well observed and sensibly handled insight into, for want of a better phrase, an ordinary grief. Abstaining from the usual colourful decorations. Not feeling up to visitors, but not turning them away. Deciding to put off family traditions for a little while. Making sure everyone has their cup of tea and nice USA biscuit.
Like their delicate handling of abortion and emotional upheaval after a breakup in the first book, Breen and McLysaght delicately address the trauma of redundancies, the aftereffect of the mutual decision to end a relationship (what you might call a ‘good’ breakup), longstanding emotional abuse and the very real and all too familiar circumstance of finding yourself living back in the family home. If in OMGWACA Aisling was a small town girl trying to make it in the big city, in The Importance of Being Aisling she’s back in the town she loves so well.
The authors have a deft way of infusing a light comic touch into serious situations, making them at once more palatable to contend with and refreshingly relatable. Aisling isn’t painted as an angel – she gets things muddled and sticks her foot in it as much as the next person – but there’s a frankness and honesty to her personality that gives the impression that any situation she is faced with can be tackled, with the help of family and friends. The Importance of Being Aisling is as observant, subtly political and wryly, knowingly funny as she isn’t.
So what’s next for her? Fans will be crying out for more once they’ve torn through this book, and as much as I’d like to see how her story continues I’d love to be privy to her origin tale. Aisling and best friend Majella taking on the Transition Year musical perhaps, while addressing issues teenagers are faced with? Her college days maybe, and the concerns that come with being out on your own as a young adult for the first time? Whichever direction the writers decide to go, if it’s as touching, warm and laugh-out-loud funny as the previous two incarnations, we’ll take it.
First published in The Tuam Herald on 10.10.18