On Midnight Beach
Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick | Faber & Faber | 320pp | £7.99 pb |9780571355594
review by Síne Quinn
‘My novels are rooted in myth and legend but ultimately they are concerned with how we each twist and turn and struggle (and laugh and dance) towards adulthood.’
Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick is an accomplished award-winning writer and illustrator and a natural storyteller. From her inimitable and unsettling historic mystery novel Dark Warning to her vivid and wonderful wordless picture book Owl Bat Bat Owl, her collection of published works is eclectic and impressive in equal measure, revealing a broad range of talent and an incredible imagination. On Midnight Beach is her Young Adult début—another novel drawing from myth, it examines the human struggle and traces its protagonists’ trajectory ‘towards adulthood’. Inspired by Ireland’s dramatic myths and legends, in particular ‘The Cattle Raid of Cooley’ (Táin Bó Cuailnge), On Midnight Beach is the retelling and re-imagining of this epic Irish odyssey, set in a fictitious bay in County Donegal over a summer.
In the incredible heatwave of 1976 (not unlike the unseasonable weather we are currently experiencing) Fitzpatrick’s story unfolds through Emer’s and Gus’s points of view. The dual protagonists live on either side of the bay, Carrig Cove and Ross, and are both aged seventeen—in their final years at school, on the cusp of adulthood and about to embark on their own personal journeys. A wild creature entering their world not only brings excitement but also gives them courage to push boundaries—whether it’s climbing out bedroom windows to go for midnight swims or having trysts in beach caves, both Emer and Gus encounter whole new exhilarating experiences.
The arrival of a dolphin in Carrig Cove’s bay heralds new beginnings, shaking up the sleepy, backwater rural village with its twitching net curtains and generations of prejudice. Word travels fast and soon the village is awash with tourists and day trippers, all hoping to catch a glimpse of Rinn the dolphin. But the dolphin’s appearance also attracts unwanted attention from across the bay, igniting a local battle between two gangs. Soon the rivalry and violence escalate, but when the gangs start vandalising things, including cutting lobster pots and ripping nets, it impacts the town’s livelihood and leads to a dramatic climax.
On Midnight Beach is so vivid, evocative and stifling in places, you can almost smell the overpowering scents of the Atlantic Ocean, fish scales, diesel, whipped vanilla ice cream, corned beef, heated tarmac, spilt cold lager and talcum powder to mask the excessive perspiration.
One of Ireland’s most famous legends is deftly adapted and retold as a dramatic, romantic and tragic tale set in Ireland 44 years ago during a very different era. Fitzpatrick has created another memorable tale that will leave you reeling.
Síne Quinn holds an M.Phil in Children’s Literature and is the Managing Editor at Cubicle 7 Entertainment. A Children’s Books Ireland book doctor and creative-writing teacher working with the Bookmarks Programme at TCD, she provides editorial and writing support and advice to publishers.