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Grand by Noelle McCarthy


In pub lounges all over Cork City, Noelle McCarthy's mother, Carol, rages against her life and everything she's lost. As soon as she can, Noelle runs away - all the way to New Zealand. But then Mammy gets sick and it's time to face everything that's waiting back home.


Grand is an incredible memoir by broadcaster McCarthy, who began her broadcast career at Auckland student radio station bFM. It is an unforgettable mother and daughter story that vividly and evocatively examines the difficulties of growing up with an alcoholic. Haunted by the affliction, McCarthy documents her own account of reckoning with alcoholism.


McCarthy slips in and out of the decades, and countries, but the reader is never lost. She writes with vibrancy and energy, as she tries to outrun the stalking shadow of her mother. Eventually she too finds herself at the bottom of a bottle, taking the reader on a wild, heart-breaking ride before her hard-fought battle for sobriety.


We see McCarthy herself become a mother. The all-too-familiar fears of breaking the family dysfunction cycle that plagues every mother begin to stalk her too. We watch as McCarthy's motherhood journey helps her understand Carol more and the pair enter a new season of their relationship.


I devoured Grand within days - McCarthy sweeps you up and places you right in the action of this tumultuous escapade we call life. After a wild, intense two-thirds of the book, McCarthy grapples with her Mammy's death. It is here where we are finally able to take a breath, to ponder, to reflect. The contrast of their intense relationship to Mammy's funeral - which McCarthy observed online in New Zealand due to the pandemic - is brutal.


It is a haunting read, but a sparkling story of the invisible ties that bind us, of demons that are handed down through the generations, and of the leap of faith it takes to change, and accept, them. Grand is an absolute must-read.


Reviewed by Rebekah Lyell

Penguin, RRP $35