Title: On Midnight Beach (review copy)
Author: Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick
Genre/Themes: Young Adult, Mythology Retelling, Irish, Coming of Age, Romance, Rivals, Táin Bó Cuailgne (Cattle Raid of Cooley)
Blurb from Goodreads
In this beautiful, epic coming-of-age novel, an old tale is rewoven as a stunning YA story by well-known Irish author/illustrator Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick.
I kept clear of Dog Cullen. Till the summer we turned seventeen, the summer the dolphin came to Carrig Cove . . .
Donegal, 1976: When a dolphin takes up residence in Carrig Cove, Emer and her best friend, Fee, feel like they have an instant connection with it. Then Dog Cullen and his sidekick, Kit, turn up, and the four friends begin to sneak out at midnight to go down to the beach, daring each other to swim closer and closer to the creature . . .
But the fame and fortune the dolphin brings to their small village builds resentment amongst their neighbours across the bay, and the summer days get longer and hotter . . . There is something wild and intense in the air. Love feels fierce, old hatreds fester, and suddenly everything feels worth fighting for.
I 100% requested On Midnight Beach from NetGalley because the MC and I share the same first name (Éimhear is the traditional Irish spelling of the anglicised Emer) and I thought it would be interesting to read about another Emer.
But I didn’t expect to enjoy this book as much as I did!
I tore through this story as quickly as I could so desperate was I to get to the end and to see how the story would pan out.
And what made this more interesting to me is that this 1976 set story is a loose interpretation of the great Irish mythological epic Táin Bó Cuailgne (Cattle Raid of Cooley). I’ve always been fascinated by that story of Cú Chulainn and how he shares many similarities to Achilles in Homer’s The Iliad. FYI the manuscript from which the epic comes dates from the 12th century.
But never fear, you need not know anything about the Táin to enjoy this book.
The story follows the events of one baking hot summer in a bay in the north-west of Ireland when a magnificent dolphin swims into the cove and the lives of two bay-front communities are irreversibly changed.
The dolphin seems to take a shine to one village over the other, that of Carrig Cove, and an ethereal sort of connection between 17 year old Emer, her best friend Fee and this dolphin takes hold. Together with two boys from the community, Dog Cullen and his friend Kit, this group of four takes to night swimming with the dolphin and love blossoms between Emer and Dog.
Carrig Cove experiences a boon due to the presence of the dolphin but teenagers from neighbouring community Ross become jealous and long simmering hostilities between the two villages erupt…
The book is a really interesting piece on prejudices arising from social class and on parochial hatred that blooms between different communities as they try to assert their dominance and notions of betterment over the other.
The MC Emer is a compelling character to read about. She’s at times incredibly naive and at others deeply perceptive. It’s really fascinating to read about her relationship with her parents and how she doesn’t actually realise how constrained her life is until she falls in love with someone that her father would not deem as suitable. And she doesn’t become the stereotypical rebellious type when she does begin to see how her life has been mapped out for her, she instead quietly finds ways to express who she is but yet by the book’s end she’s gone on a pretty massive journey character-wise. I really enjoyed her character arc and felt so keenly for all the emotional turmoil she went through throughout the book.
I absolutely loved the character of Seth “Dog” Cullen. His character is loosely based on the mythological character of Cú Chulainn and I really think that author Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick penned him perfectly. He was this juxtaposition of sensitivity and aggression, and it was very easy to see how Emer could fall for this boy with so many mysterious depths to his personality.
What was a great choice in the book is that the author chose to give us a perspective of life in the rival community of Ross through the eyes of the character Gus. Gus had moved to Ross from Carrig Cove as a child and due to this he wasn’t fully welcomed in either village. In Carrig Cove he was thought of as a traitor for leaving and in Ross he was always that Carrig Cove boy. So this dichotomy meant that he had insight into both communities. Therefore his chapters really helped to expand the narrative and really gave the novel a much needed wider scope.
I didn’t always get behind some of Gus’ character motivations…let’s just say he thought with his hormones quite a bit but then again what teenager doesn’t give into their rampaging hormones when a pretty girl flirts with them. But his relationship with Maeve was compelling to read about because they were both clearly using each other rather than emotionally connecting and I thought that was a fresh take for YA. It was just nice to juxtapose the true love style story of Emer and Dog with the almost friends with benefits style relationship of Gus and Maeve.
Another great choice of the book I thought was the decision to set this in 1976. It was fascinating to think about what an Ireland of 1976 was like for teenagers and how insular their worlds would have been. It also was interesting to read about the prejudiced attitudes of the time and how those attitudes affected teenage girls in particular especially regarding female sexuality.
Other things I liked:
-  Present parents – a disproportionate number of YA books suffer from an absence of parents but this book made Emer’s relationship difficulties with her parents a key part of the storyline which I think many people, both teenage and older, will be able to empathise with.
-  A positive female friendship – I liked how Emer and Fee were there for each other at all times. I especially liked how Emer assisted Fee in looking out for Fee’s younger brother who was a victim of bullying. It just gave me strong “found family” trope vibes.
-  Interesting cast of side characters – there were a number of featured side characters which really added to the village feel of the setting of this book.
Overall I really enjoyed this book. The style of the narrative was incredibly engaging, the pace was pretty great and I was never once bored with the storyline. I thought it was an incredibly original take on an old Irish myth complete with vibrant characters and a storyline of love and hate that would speak to anyone around the world.
*An e-copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher, Faber & Faber, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*
Publishing: April 2nd 2020