The Tablet reviews Jane McLoughlin’s The Unfriended, released with Quartet in September 2015 and soon to be available in e-book format.
Jane McLoughlin’s nostalgic coming-of-age story seems to have captured the atmosphere of the place and the time most evocatively (Dublin in the 1960’s). A quartet of female students are thrown together in their fresher’s year: Ellie, Ffion, Sandra and Hilary. They all have a self-conscious sense of being different from their mothers, or wanting to be different, and embark on their youthful experimentations, which will involve sexual intercourse, fear of pregnancy, abortion – one performed by a medical student in a kitchen – experience of suicide, fatal car crashes, the discovery of feminism, and the simultaneous rivalry and bonding friendships that are part of girl politics.
McLoughlin understands how important the question of motherhood – or non-motherhood- is for women. As time goes by, and age brings its reproaches and regrets, her four protagonists live into the age of Aids, the acceptance of homosexuality, and the Gillick ruling: there’s a stroking scene in which the underage daughter of one of the women insists on an abortion without telling her parents, supported by Ffion,the beauty of the group, and possibly the authorial voice.
The narrative reaches its apex with the election of Mary Robinson as president of Ireland, toasted by the four friends in whiskey (which would not be the very sober Mrs Robinson’s style at all.) It’s a story which will please all those old “Trinners” alumni I meet, and enlighten those who never got past those gates.