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As You Were by Elaine Feeney review – a poet's darkly comic fiction debut


This tragicomic tale of a thirtysomething mother with a terrible secret serves as a keen-eyed portrait of modern Ireland

Elaine Feeney has published three acclaimed collections of poetry before turning to novels, and her fiction debut, As You Were, is steeped in the rhythms and evocative language that mark her poems. Voices jostle with one another, Galway colloquialisms woven in with text speak and emojis, as a run-down hospital ward serves as a microcosm for contemporary Ireland.

The narrator, Sinéad Hynes, a mother of three in her late 30s, has been admitted after collapsing. It’s eight months since she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, but she has put off telling her husband (and sons): “I thought it was a dreadfully selfish thing to do to another person, fill him up with worry and uncertainty, to try and make him figure out death.” Instead, she obsessively Googles drugs and cures and outcomes alongside the mundane business of daily life.

Related: Introducing our 10 best debut novelists of 2020

As You Were by Elaine Feeney is published by Harvill Secker (£14.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com. Free UK p&p over £15

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