In the short epigraph to Oona Frawley’s Flight, the single word of the novel’s title is explored, dictionary definition-style. From “a mounting or soaring out of the regular course or beyond ordinary bounds”, to “the duning drift of imagination”, Flight — word and novel — promises transportation, transformation, sublimity, even. An ambitious opening, for an ambitious novel. What follows, however, ultimately struggles to get off the ground. The story is of three women, of Ireland in changing times, of change itself, of time, and of movement. Spanning 60 years and four continents, and all in just 222 pages, Frawley’s narrative is daring, self-assured, well-intended and at times quite successful. Sandrine, a pregnant Zimbabwean woman comes to Ireland in the year 2004. Her story intertwines with that of Clare, an elderly Irish woman she is hired to care for, and Clare’s daughter Elizabeth, born in Ireland but brought up by her nomadic parents in the United States and Vietnam. The three women share the narrative, each of them in turn voicing their memories of different lives lived in different places, and their respective experiences of a modern Dublin in which none of them feel at home. The elements are well-chosen, the structure elegant, and the subject matter relevant. It really is a pity that the thing doesn’t quite seem to fly.
It’s difficult to pin-point exactly what is to blame for what could almost be described as a strange lack of energy in the narrative. Frawley’s own prose style of long, run-on sentences regularly seems to lessen the power of her compositions. Clarity is at times lost in unnecessarily complicated syntax and endless deferrals of a solidifying full-stop. Furthermore, there is a strange tendency towards sudden movements forward in time, wherein the reader witnesses the build-up to an event, before being quickly ushered past the event itself, with little more than a sentence worth of assurance that the event itself did indeed happen. These elements could easily be said to form a specific part of the novel’s engagement with its subject matter — time and movement. Indeed, it would be wrong to describe as faults elements that are so clearly part of a conscious stylistic choice. However, they seem to at points create a distance between reader and character; indeed, between the reader and the narrative itself, that diminishes the potential for engagement, and the reading experience as a whole.
That said, Flight has a lot going for it. Frawley — clearly a very capable writer — achieves some well-rendered, lucid moments in the course of the text, displaying sudden insight and clarity of expression. Most worthy of praise, ultimately, is her boldness in confronting the Ireland of the Celtic Tiger years. With honesty that is at once brutal, refreshing and desperately necessary, Frawley paints a picture of an Ireland in which racism, greed and alienation are just as rife as they are anywhere else. Here hostility to immigrants is as present as it is hypocritical and not everyone who has left yearns to come back. Frawley genuinely refuses to poeticise Ireland, most powerfully by refusing to dwell too much on it. Through Sandrine’s eyes, she shows an Ireland that is mostly unremarkable, that is actually less than Sandrine had expected. She wonders vaguely if she would have been better off in England instead. Indeed, all three main characters display a sensible and somewhat admirable lack of loyalty to Ireland, and this is what makes their testimony so strong and striking. It is here that the novel is at its best.
Ultimately, it is in its delivery that Flight can be said to falter. The parts are fairly sound, but their sum doesn’t quite take wing. Flight, as it is initially described, doesn’t actually take place. Make no mistake, however, there is certainly something to see here, in terms of Oona Frawley and indeed her publisher, the newly-formed, Dublin-based Tramp Press. An impressive debut for both, if not an overwhelmingly satisfying read.