Review: Iron Annie by Luke Cassidy (2021)

Blurb

I still think’a her every day, several times a day.

Aoife knows everyone in Dundalk’s underworld. Too well, in some cases. But when she meets Annie, a beautiful whirlwind of a woman, and brings her to the Town, she finds that she doesn’t know nearly enough about her.

Annie is magnetic and wild and Aoife’s desire to learn more quickly becomes a need, and then an obsession – to know this dangerous woman, to love her, to keep her. So when Aoife’s friend and collaborator the Rat King asks her to help him dispose of ten kilos of cocaine, swiped from a rival, she brings Annie along for a road trip through a Britain that she only knows as a place to be suspicious of. So when Annie decides she doesn’t want to return to Ireland, Aoife makes a decision that changes everything.

Gritty and yet tender, tragic and yet hopeful, Iron Annie is a breakneck journey that crackles with energy, warmth and heart, and marks the arrival of a fresh and vibrant new voice in literary fiction.

Review

Huge thanks to Brian at Storyline Literary Agency and Bloomsbury for providing me with a beautiful finished copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

I am going to find it very difficult to write a decent review of this book, because Iron Annie is one of those rare, special gems that has worked its way into my heart. I feel less as if I’ve read a novel, and more as if I have met and fallen in love with real people. It’s kind of similar to how I felt about Fíona Scarlett’s stunning book Boys Don’t Cry (incidentally, Scarlett is also quoted on the back cover of Cassidy’s novel) – in my review of that book, I wrote about the way in which the author makes space for the voices of the boys, stepping back so that the characters come to the fore. This also happens in Iron Annie – this is so definitively Aoife’s story – she is its voice and its centre and she comes alive through her narration, to the point where it is hard to remember that there is an author behind her words (sorry, Luke, I promise I do mean that as a huge compliment!)

But in Iron Annie there is another layer at play. Not only does the wonderfully vivid narrative voice immerse us in Aoife’s story, but Aoife herself is a generous, clear-eyed, honest narrator, who gives space to the other characters in the story, brings them alive for us, loves them fiercely despite their flaws, and it is impossible not to feed off her energy and enthusiasm and straight-talking wisdom. Seeing the world through Aoife’s eyes feels like a gift, an insight into a better way of looking at people and learning to love them. And yet there is nothing sentimental about this story – the hard, painful truths of scraping by and living in the margins are there in all their gritty realism, and Annie herself is far from idealised, despite Aoife’s love for her. But that’s what makes it so real – Aoife is under no illusions about Annie; she sees her clearly, she tries her best to understand her, and, in a very subtle, intelligent way, she shows us how to love without either judgement or naivety.

It did take me a little bit of time to get into Aoife’s distinctive voice, but as soon as I did, I was flying. It’s gorgeously written, compulsively readable – I found myself having to ration it out so I didn’t reach the end too quickly. There are so many small, moving moments in this book (as well as one GIANT one that had me break down in tears), so many instances of showing what it means to be truly, purely ALIVE. There are lines that will stay with me, characters who have firmly taken up residence in my mind – I know I will be thinking about them for a long, long time.

I don’t know whether the author will return to Dundalk in future books, but I’d absolutely love to revisit it. The Town is as much a character in the novel as the people, and I would love to catch up with its residents again. Regardless, I will definitely be reading anything else Luke Cassidy writes in the future – his talent radiates from every page, and I think I’ll be hard-pressed to read a better debut novel this year. I miss Aoife already, though I can still hear her voice.

Iron Annie by Luke Cassidy is published by Bloomsbury and is available to purchase here.

2 thoughts on “Review: Iron Annie by Luke Cassidy (2021)

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