How do you pick up the pieces when the person that held them together is gone?
When forty-year-old Rabbit Hayes dies, she leaves behind a family broken by grief. Her mother Molly is distraught and in danger of losing her faith. Her father Jack spends hour upon hour in the family attic, poring over his old diaries, losing himself in the past.
Rabbit’s brother Davey finds himself suddenly guardian to her twelve-year-old daughter Juliet. Juliet might be able to fill a hole in Davey’s heart – but how can he help Juliet through her grief when he can barely cope with his own?
But even though the Hayes family are all fighting their own battles, they are drawn together by their love for Rabbit, and their love for each other. In the years that follow her death they find new ways to celebrate and remember her, to find humour and hope in the face of tragedy, and to live life to its fullest, as Rabbit would have wanted.
I didn’t know I needed Below The Big Blue Sky until I actually read it. It had me laughing and crying in equal measure and it was a complete breath of fresh air after reading so much crime and grit.
For those who haven’t read, The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes, have no fear, as it really wasn’t necessary, as we didn’t actually meet Rabbit in person. We learnt about her through the voices of the individual members of her family as they came to terms with her untimely death. And oh my did she leave some anguish and turmoil behind that McPartlin used to the max as she mixed some superbly brilliant comedy with the bleak dark recesses of grief.
The Hayes family, what can I tell you about them? So much that it would take far too long and would give too much away but I shall attempt to give an essence or flavour of what to expect.
Juliet or Bunny was Rabbit’s daughter, left to the care of her Uncle Davey, she was mature beyond her young teenage years. She broke your heart as McPartlin sent her to America on endless tours with Davey’s band, buried her in school work and turned her in to the most brilliant personal assistant her Uncle had ever had. McPartlin showed a teenager that just couldn’t be a teenager, that shut herself off, and tried to be and do what everyone expected, afraid to let everyone down and reveal her true feelings. You knew she had to go through the downs to get to a place of peace and acceptance but McPartlin didn’t make it easy on the reader.
Her Uncle Davy was the eternal rocker, wrapped up in endless tours of America, the weight of being a new parent and honouring his sister almost too much to bear. I liked how McPartlin used his niece Juliet to make him question his life and his future, events pushing him ever closer to a decsion.
Grace, Rabbit’s elder sister, faced her own troubles, ones that McPartlin dealt with in such a sensitive yet honest manner. Again your heart broke, but the lighter moments crept in, as they made you smile and realise that perhaps better times were on there way.
Jack, Rabbit’s father, was, and I hope the author won’t mind me saying this, typical of men of his generation, a stiff upper lip, no feelings on show, just the need to run away, shut off and brood.
My favourite character had to be Rabbit’s mother Molly. Her foul mouthed outbursts were hilarious, her choice of words and no nonsense attitude were McPartlin’s jewel in her novel. She was the one they all feared, but the one they all went to, their safe haven, until she wasn’t, until she lost her sparkle and lost herself. McPartlin threw her into charity work, into protests that landed her in trouble with hilarious, yet serious consequences.
You knew that for the family to be ok, Molly needed to be ok, the jigsaw puzzle would all fit back together and they could move forward. McPartlin took her time to get them all there, the story stretching over two years, as the family struggled with grief, and their own personal issues, no quick fix to making it all right.
McPartlin was sensitive and caring in her narrative, she knew when to inject humour before the dark moments threatened to engulf the characters and the reader. I admired her ability to get the balance just right to make me laugh, to make me cry.
As I said at the beginning it was a complete breath of fresh air, a wonderful absorbing read and one I shall remember for a long time.
I would like to thank Zagreb for a copy of Below The Big Blue Sky to read and review and to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Anna McPartlin is a novelist and scriptwriter from Dublin, who has written for TV serial dramas featured on BBC UK, RTE Ireland and A&E America. She has been writing adult fiction for over ten years, and also writes for children under the name Bannie McPartlin. She lives with her husband Donal and their four dogs.