I loved the heroine, Penelope Eames, a modestly successful romantic writer who is a sort of everywoman of our times and a wonderful mix of insight, diffidence and foolishness.
I also relished the milieu in which ‘Finding Penelope’ is set, the expatriate Anglophone world of the Spanish Mediterranean, where lonely English widows and gangsters and Irish novelists and aspiring starlets all get jumbled up together and make a fine old mess of their lives in the process.
This is a really, really fine piece of sharp, precise and accurate work. A novel that will give deep, literary pleasure.”
Carlo Gébler, author
Publication date: September 2012.
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Caitriona MacKernan reviewing in Books Ireland February 2013
Finding Penelope. James Lawless. Indigo Dreams Publishing 230 pfl7.99 pb19 cm +1-907401-78-7
Cocaine rule of the vulnerable is the subject of this compelling psychodrama. It is set in Costa del Sol, among
expat criminal gangs and their hangers-on such as pornography film producers, their starlets and totally innocent local Spaniards.
When the novel’s Spanish hero Ramón’s mother resisted being robbed, she was stabbed to death. Ramón, a schoolteacher, resented that expat children and their parents had no loyalty to their adopted country.
All embarrassed and shocked, the novel’s heroine, an Irish Penelope, is an unlikely chick lit novelist a “goody two-shoes”, for whom the classical image of Penelope, with protectively crossed knees, reflecting chastity, would have been apt.
Penelope and her brother Dermot, a cocaine addict and dealer, were unfortunate in their parents; her mother an alcoholic who eventually committed suicide and her father, an eminent academic doctor, prone to administering putdowns and undermining his wife and two children.
After her novel’s success, encouraged by her ego- affirming literary agent, she moved to Costa del Sol to escape the family stranglehold and the belittling of her sugar-coated fiction. Besides, the agent expected life on the Costa, where one went for a tan and got a man, to be chick lit productive.
When she lived in Dundrum, Penelope, true to her name, kept house, minded her mother and nurtured her baby brother as all three cowered before her father. As he aged and became even more cantankerous, he needed her to minister to his ailments. She had resented his betrayal of her mother to and by “fawning acolytes frequenting his room, hoping in exchange for some fleshy transaction of summa cum laude in the examination’.
Her solitary escape to the Costa was brief, as Dermot followed her, trailing bars of Toblerone filled with sachets of white powder. Would her Odysseus, Ramón, win her over from her lifelong habit of protecting Dermot? Costa protection would involve playing up to and script writing for a chrome-haired lecher, cocaine addict and pornographic film maker, who “sat on the throne of his seraglio pulling at the string of the nearest girl’s bikini bottom”. Later, a foreign “tart” blinded him in one eye, and in reprisal, another was found slumped in the lift, “her short red skirt ridden up to her black panties, with blood oozing into a pool around her”. Providing him with “adulterated shit”, or talking to the pigs – the police — could and would have lethal consequences.
Lawless reinvented the millennia-worn story line to reveal not only a Dublin expat Costa del Sol akin to the RTE Love Hate series but beautiful writing, which in Carlo Gébler’s words “will give deep literary pleasure”.
Bold voyage around the mind of the chick-lit consumer pays off
HILARY A WHITE Sunday Independent 3rd March 2013
Indigo Dreams. €11.50
Penelope Eames, a curvaceous 33-year-old fluff novelist, relocates to a Spanish costa, partly to tinker away at another title and partly to escape the dysfunction of her father and brother in Dublin. In the fictional town of Felicidad, she is massaged by azure Iberian skies and the emergent affections of a local lifeguard.
The pleasure account is debited, however, by the seediness of the coke-snorting, pimping UK expat community, who range in shape and menace from needy but harmless neighbour Gwen to the repulsive porn-gangster Charlie Eliot. It is the latter whom Penelope must face to save her drug-addict brother Dermot after he turns up on her doorstep with shady intentions. Begging her to turn her back on hopeless Dermot and embrace stability and romance is dreamy lifeguard Ramon, whose mother died at the hands of a junkie. Gradually, the sheen of sunny escapism fades and Felicidad emerges as a stiflingly hot haven for unsavoury blow-ins.
On the face of it, James Lawless’s latest looks like an attempt to mine the lucrative chick-lit market while seasoning it with crime and spiritual redemption. But there’s more going on with Finding Penelope, a novel the Dublin author has called his ‘wry glance’ at the genre. Such moves are apparent when Lawless’s heady, hooky narration is in full flow and the thinness of the plot is less apparent. It is here, off-piste and burrowed into Penelope’s mind, that we observe him in his quest to understand the mindset of 70 per cent of the fiction-reading market.
To do this, Lawless consulted family and friends and revised the classic literary heroines. Toblerone-loving, self-doubting, spontaneously confident Penelope is the result. She swoons over the heavy, mother-obsessed anti-Lothario Ramon, where a younger woman might get bored.
Although taking umbrage, she is obedient when a pushy feature writer and sleazy photographer come to do a profile piece on her, and sees both faux-maternal comfort and unease in her agent. At her core, she finds ways to share the blame for Dermot’s demons and her mother’s suicide with her unpleasant philandering father. Penelope’s is an authentic voice, full of human contradiction and composed desperation.
It’s all very readable, cruising along in sprightly, buoyant chapters. Lawless (an award-winning short story writer and poet) has a classy turn of phrase and can whisk up ambience at will. But Penelope’s unrelenting internal monologue at times stifles the already scant crime rhythms of the plot; the result is a slightness in the male characters and a nullifying of any intrigue or tension.
Your gut reminds you, though, that the writer is not here for anything this ordinary. It’s no coincidence, for example, that Charlie resembles Penelope’s father, or that Ramon is both a ‘teacher’ and ‘lifeguard’. Witness Lawless’s elaborations on novel-writing, chick-lit and the publishing industry, all contemplated through Penelope’s brain channels. Neither the book-within-the-book or novel-as-soapbox architectures are especially original, but Lawless exploits both well.
A large part of this heroine’s self-worth rests on her new work, and her commercial side urges her to stick with happy endings (“that’s what they want her to produce … illusions; flavours of the month to provide comfort and solace for fire-side amusement … So make it all bland for word-glancing or page-flicking readers in ready supply of roses without the thorns.”). Something in the Spanish air, something perhaps wrestled into clarity over the years by Lawless, suggests to Penelope that the cool realities of life can be more redemptive.
What a great novel! This is a fantastic story where two very different ways of life meet up. Penelope is from Ireland where her father is the dominant figure in the home and has a brother hooked on drugs but it is a life she is less than content with despite any family bond that remains. At 33 years of age she decides to ship out and move to Spain and in particular the Costa holiday region, a world apart from her former life.Following the meeting of Ramon, a school teacher, she feels her life is heading in the right direction and her decision to leave the family behind in Ireland is justified to fulfill her own desires and enjoyment of life.Alas there are some complications that arise thanks to her brother who deals with Charlie Eliot, a dealer and pimp. Add to the mix that Ramon’s mother’s life was taken by a drug addict and his view on the situation urges him to dissuade Penelope of any intervention. Penelope is caught in a personal loyalty battle of lover or brother?Author James Lawless has done an excellent job of creating a great blend of emotions that come from opposing viewpoints with a number of characters. Ramon wanting to protect the interests of Penelope and Penelope feels that she really needs to come to the aid of Dermot, her brother.A well-crafted novel with a good story line and if you are looking for some steady and fairly easy but enjoyable reading then have a look at Finding Penelope.
Maude Z Waller, Businessdailyreview.com
Reviews form Amazon
What a great novel! This is a fantastic story where two very different ways of life meet up. Penelope is from Ireland where her father is the dominant figure in the home and has a brother hooked on drugs but it is a life she is less than content with despite any family bond that remains. At 33 years of age she decides to ship out and move to Spain and in particular the Costa holiday region, a world apart from her former life.
Following the meeting of Ramon, a school teacher, she feels her life is heading in the right direction and her decision to leave the family behind in Ireland is justified to fulfill her own desires and enjoyment of life.
Alas there are some complications that arise thanks to her brother who deals with Charlie Eliot, a dealer and pimp. Add to the mix that Ramon’s mother’s life was taken by a drug addict and his view on the situation urges him to dissuade Penelope of any intervention. Penelope is caught in a personal loyalty battle of lover or brother?
Author James Lawless has done an excellent job of creating a great blend of emotions that come from opposing viewpoints with a number of characters. Ramon wanting to protect the interests of Penelope and Penelope feels that she really needs to come to the aid of Dermot, her brother.
A well-crafted novel with a good story line and if you are looking for some steady and fairly easy but enjoyable reading then have a look at Finding Penelope.
5.0 out of 5 stars Where World’s Clash and a Young Woman Must Decide,January 1, 2013
Finding Penelope. Although they are only a jet flight trip apart, the worlds of Ireland and Spain may as well be two lands from different times. Ireland, with its green and brooding hills and family life where father is still the head of the clan. Spain, with its climate that varies from snow-capped mountains to Mediterranean villages and where family and love are the driving forces, should be on two continents. That’s why the protagonist in “Finding Penelope,” a young Irish romance writer, who flees south to get away from a domineering father and a drug-addled brother, also finds the love of her life Ramon, a teacher with whom she believes she can have a new life.
But, the hand of family reaches out at a frantic Dermot; Penelope’s brother finds himself in way too deep with a drug-dealer and pimp – Charles Eliot, whom Ramon warns her against — and pleads with her sister to help bail him out.
Will she do it? We won’t tip our hand on this one nor the author, James Lawless, whose find hand at crafting a novel that will keep you riveted to the last page is really a joy to behold.
5.0 out of 5 stars Found Penelope riveting!,November 11, 2012
“Finding Penelope” is a brilliantly written novel which deals with the drugs scene on the Spanish Costas. Its suspense and foreboding make it a compulsive read; and it has an engaging, sympathetic and real protagonist in Penelope Eames where her ethical duty towards her family chugs at her own yearnings for love and personal fulfilment.
This review is from: Finding Penelope (Paperback)
The author starts the story describing the beauty of a woman in detail. He does it in such a way that romantic novel lovers are certain to enjoy this novel from the very beginning. Lawless has both an eye for detail and an uncanny ability to provoke emotion. It really can quite literally blow you away.
The main story revolves around Penelope Eames, her brother Dermot, and a man called Ramon. Penelope Eames, the heroine of this book, is a writer by profession. Dermot and Ramon are both teachers of Spanish to whom she feels a certain attraction. All sounds sweet but there are elements of tragedy here too with the death of her mother, and her brother becoming a drug addict. In her family life with her father and brother she is unhappy, and so decides to move to Spain.
After meeting Ramon there, Penelope begins to liven up, and as her writing career starts to also take off she starts to see hope. With her first novel “smelling of roses”, she widens her horizons and buys an apartment in the Costa del Sol in Spain, and from there the story develops.
It would spoil the reader’s fun to reveal more of the story. I enjoyed the way the author James Lawless successfully portrays the life of an oppressed woman with a continued strong sympathy for her brother. Even in Spain, where she finds escape, she cannot escape her family ties and feelings, and when she gets a distressed call from her brother Dermot, she feels compelled to act.
There are a number of intricacies in this novel, and Lawless plays them out beautifully. Drug-addiction, romance, it’s all orchestrated so well by the author. He clearly is a writer with great quality and style and I have no hesitation in recommending him. Like the addiction he covers in this book, I feel compelled to try out his next novel. Try this novel out. You’ll get hooked.
A book involving a woman who temporarily relocates to Spain to strike out a bit on her own and escape family trouble.
Penelope is the perfect example of people living a guilt filled life and all for the wrong reasons, the major of them all being living the way you want to live.
Here is our heroine, young and beautiful, a successful writer making enough to live a comfortable life, and here are her father and brother, having thoroughly convinced her that she’s not worthy of being happy only because she doesn’t pick up after them.
And when she does find the courage to separate from their weights, she bumps into none other than our hero, a nice and cultured Spanish young man but even he puts her in a situation where she has to choose between him and her family.
Lawless has portrayed Penelope Eames’s character beautifully and very realistically. Most people who care for others’ feelings more than average get caught up in this emotional blackmail game, where they are eventually forced into submission of more than what they bargained for originally. This story deals with the struggles of a woman who goes through the emotional blackmailing, somehow gets out of it, and is pulled back in it again but only because you can never stop caring for the people you love the most, and that too especially family, no matter how rotten they seem.
But how she manages everything the second time around, and the choices she makes are worth reading. Finding Penelope is my second Lawless novel, first being For Love of Anna, and it certainly won’t be my last.