Mary O’Hara, age 12, is heartbroken when her best friend moves to another neighbourhood. And her granny, Emer, is seriously ill in hospital so she and her Mum, Scarlett, go there every evening. Life is disrupted, but it is nothing to the disruption when Tansey, her great-grandmother who died of flu in 1928 when Emer was a toddler, suddenly appears as Mary walks home from school one day. Tansey is quite a matter-of-fact sort of ghost, appearing now, it seems, as the daughter whom she once left so suddenly and at a very young age, is herself, dying.
In his picture book, Her Mother’s Face, Doyle looked at the past as it impacts on the present and the link between mothers and daughters. A Greyhound of a Girl picks up on these themes as Doyle explores aspects of the lives of four generations of Irish women in the same family, focusing on each of them at different times in their lives. Rational belief has to be suspended, not just to accept Tansey’s presence, but also when she, her granddaughter and great-granddaughter sneak the dying Emer out of hospital on a mad drive to Wexford for one last look at the old family home. But Doyle keeps the momentum moving along so that the reader becomes absorbed in an account of four strong female characters, and of changing aspects of Irish life over a period of 80-plus years.
While this might seem a depressing book, it is actually a glorious celebration of life, its brevity, its vicissitudes, the importance of love and of family, told by an accomplished storyteller. The women are feisty, sparking off each other and keeping their men folk in their place, and there is plenty to smile about as their stories unfold.