Irish author, Elske Rahill’s second novel is an epic beast. It follows the lives of four generations of women in a large family, over a particularly turbulent period. Molly is the matriarch of the family. She’s in her eighties and very much focused upon helping her granddaughters, Cara and Freya bring up their young children. Molly is the wealthy widow of a famous Irish artist and as her life draws to a close she looks back on her childhood and early marriage and also becomes increasingly concerned with how she’ll provide for her granddaughters and great grandchildren after her death. Molly has a substantial estate and is closer to the younger generation than her own three daughters. When her health fails and Molly begins to develop dementia, issues concerning the will and financial provision threaten to tear the family apart.
Rahill is a beautiful writer. Her prose is rich and full of poetic imagery. An Unravelling is quite a long, slow read but I appreciated the way it took its time to get underneath the characters’ skin, bringing each of the women to life for the reader. Molly, in particular, is incredibly well-written. This is a character living with dementia who has both a past and a meaningful present. She is an essential part of her granddaughters’ lives, full of warmth and wit and humour. Rahill tracks her unravelling with great care. Molly’s language and meandering reminiscences perfectly convey both the dementia experience and an inherent respect for this dignified and forthright character.
I also appreciated the deep dive Rahill takes into the practicalities of dementia care. This is a novel which very much explores the unpleasant world of finances in regards to healthcare provision and inheritance. It’s something I’ve often heard talked about but rarely see reflected in dementia narratives. Molly’s own mental unravelling mirrors the unravelling of her family as they let issues surrounding finances pull them apart. An Unravelling is a book about women within a family unit; the bonds they form and how these bonds are placed under strain. It’s a wonderful, immersive read and another great addition to the canon of Irish dementia narratives. I would highly recommend.
An Unravelling was published by Head of Zeus in 2019