Edinburgh Book Festival: Helen Fitzgerald & Andrew Michael Hurley - Truth is a Bitter Medicine, Review

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Helen Fitzgerald, Andrew Michael Hurley, Lesley McDowell (chair)
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The imaginative, invented world of fiction can often explore contemporary real life issues in a more profound and powerful manner than a factual report. The pairing of two thriller writers, Helen Fitzgerald and Andrew Michael Hurley at this event, provided the ideal platform to discuss the serious concerns of coping with and caring for those with mental illness.

The page-turning novel, ‘The Exit’ by Helen Fitzgerald is informed by her personal experience working as a Social Worker to create the authenticity of setting, characters and situation. Described as a “domestic noir”, 82 year old Rose Prince, a former children's author, witnesses something strange and sinister at the Dear Green care home, Glasgow. But as she is suffering from dementia, nobody believes her.

The narrative alternates between the perspectives of Rose and a young assistant Catherine, an immature 23 year old, more interested in Facebook and flirting than this dull job. But her Miss Marple-style sleuthing into Rose’s allegations forces her to grow up and take life (and death) seriously.

‘The Loney’ by Andrew Michael Hurley, set in a Catholic retreat during the 1970s, is a Gothic tale of two boys, the nameless narrator and his mute brother. The Loney is a bleak, desolate stretch of Lancashire coastline where they go as part of a religious pilgrimage.

Chaired by Lesley McDowell, the discussion began with the art of narration. Helen's story is told by the two characters, Rose and Katherine, and moves between 1st and 3rd person. From the first sentence she says, she was able to find the voice by capturing speech patterns.

For Andrew, the mute brother is not able to express his feelings, which adds to the powerlessness of his situation as it drifts back and forth in time focusing on the narrator’s childhood.

Both writers were brought up as Roman Catholics which reflects on the way they deal with family relationships, faith, love, fear, guilt and forgiveness. Helen knew how ‘The Exit’ would end - she just had to create the puzzle of the chilling plot, which weaves between Rose’s childhood memories and her present disintegrating mind.

Andrew didn’t intend to write a horror story, more a dark supernatural mood where pagan ritual meets the modern world and shadows in a creaky house are unsettling in the imagination.

Always an illuminating question, what is your favourite book? ‘Frankenstein’, answered Helen promptly which may explain her continuing fascination with dramatic tales of the unexpected. And in contrast, Andrew selected “A Month in the Country”, J L Carr’s nostalgic, haunting portrayal of life the aftermath of the Great War.

‘The Exit’ by Helen Fitzgerald is published by Faber & Faber. ‘The Loney’ by Andrew Michael Hurley is published by John Murray.
This event took place on 21st August, 2015