Delighted to be returning today after my January break – fully restored, raring to go, excited about many of the books I’m planning to review over the next few months. I’ll tell you more about some of the excellent books I’ve been reading while on my break as soon as I can pull a post together (I’m a little bit out of practice…), but today I’m thrilled to be joining the blog tour and sharing my review of My Heart Went Walking by Sally Hanan. Due for publication on 5th February by Fire Drinkers Publishing, you can preorder it now for kindle, in hardcover and in paperback. My thanks to Hannah Hargrave for the invitation to review, and for providing my advance e-copy. Described as “an Irish tale of love, loss, and redemption”, this was one I really couldn’t resist…
Sally Hanan’s sublime debut mixes the prose of Sue Monk Kidd with the dialogue of Maeve Binchy. With captivating warmth, she pulls us in to explore how it felt to live in Ireland’s changing culture of the 1980s, and how it often made a woman’s decisions for her.
Kept apart by their love for one man, two sisters embark on their own paths towards survival, love, and understanding, until they finally meet again in the worst of circumstances. And the reality might break them all.
My Heart Went Walking is a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that sweeps from the small Irish town of Donegal to the “big smoke” of Dublin City; a book that celebrates the pull of family and the chance of redemption. It is a novel for everyone who feels connected to the Irish approach to life – that of grit and laughter – and also for everyone who loves an overriding message of hope and restoration in all things.
If, as I do, you enjoy discovering a book you can disappear into for as long as you’re reading, caught up by the story, feeling for its characters, hoping beyond hope for a happy ending… well, this might just be a book that you’ll enjoy as much as I did. One reason why I really loved this book was Una’s voice – a young girl caught up in a problem situation so frightening and insurmountable that the only answer she can see is to flee from her family and rural home and take her chances on the streets of Dublin. I was in love with her from the very beginning – despite her situation, her humour and big heart are always amply evident. I felt for her so much as her situation became increasingly desperate, and heaved a sigh of relief when she fortunately encountered the real kindness of strangers, leaving her youthful naivety behind as her personal strength began to develop.
But Una’s isn’t the only voice. The story is also told by Cullen, the love of her young life – also a compelling and likeable character, a good man, who struggles to understand why she chose to disappear. And then her sister Ellie steps into the foreground – first through her encounters with a grieving Cullum, then picking up the narrative herself with an equally distinctive and compelling voice, until her own story begins to shape the story and drive the wonderfully emotional tale that continues to unfold.
The supporting characters are just as strong and well developed. In Dublin, I simply adored Catherine and Des and their exceptional kindness, while handling some pretty serious (and well-presented) issues of their own. It’s initially difficult not to be rather more ambivalent about Una’s mother, whose entrenched views set the whole sorry story in motion: but there’s no doubt that her actions are driven by the moral standards of her environment – it’s the 1980s, but rural Ireland is still stuck in the 60s – and your sympathy for her certainly grows.
The 1980s – that time of great change – are wonderfully captured in the story, the era recreated with many familiar contemporary references. But I also really loved the story’s essential Irishness – the wonderful dialogue, the humour, the importance of family. There’s a pronunciation guide at the front of the book for those names and places that might be unfamiliar – and a glossary that helpfully ranges from “banjaxed” through “gobshite”, via Jaffa Cakes to “yoke” (I suspect primarily for a US audience – I was reading in an Irish accent from the very beginning…!).
In terms of emotional engagement, the story really is quite wonderful – I felt for its very real characters, laughed with them, shed tears at times, and cheered their little victories. The whole story has exceptional warmth, with a feel-good quality that only grows towards the book’s end – and the writing really is excellent, the author a natural storyteller. Love, loss and redemption – it certainly worked for me, and this is a book I’d thoroughly recommend to all. And that Maeve Binchy comparison? Yes, I think it’s wholly justified… I loved it.
About the author
Sally Hanan grew up in Ireland and became a nurse, but she left all the big family dinners, rain, and cups of tea when she and her husband moved to Texas. Her family now raised, she works as a book editor and occasional lay counselor and life coach. As an Irish immigrant to Texas, she enjoys eating tacos and being warm and dry year-round. My Heart Went Walking is her debut novel. She won a 2021 Readers’ Favorite gold medal winner for her nonfiction.