Book review - Unforgiveable by Barbara McKeon

A young woman falls for a married man, and as their relationship slides towards its inevitable collapse, she is drawn into a chain of events that will have devastating consequences for her and everyone around her.

This is the premise of Unforgiveable, a new novel by journalist, author, and Galway Advertiser proofreader Barbara McKeon. In it, she takes us on a journey of disfunction, remorse and, ultimately, redemption. And it is quite the ride.

The book centres on Alison Ryan, a young teacher whose sheltered upbringing in suburban Dublin has left her somewhat unprepared for the world she finds herself in as an adult. Bereft after the deaths of her parents - her only close relatives - she finds herself drawn to Malcolm Delaney, a teaching colleague who is married with two young boys.

From what is already a problematic beginning, their relationship descends into an uneasy mess, much to the annoyance of Alison’s best friend, Siobhan, who tries to warn her that the affair cannot end well. And it does not end well. Alison discovers she is pregnant, and before she has a chance to tell Malcolm, he leaves her to focus on his wife Emily who, it transpires, is also pregnant.

Distraught, Alison spirals into a deep depression as her pregnancy progresses. She decides to give her baby up for adoption, but not before her growing resentment leads her to do something unforgiveable.

Struggling to come to terms with her actions, and unable to confide in anyone, Alison decides to leave her old life behind. She moves across the country to Galway, where she takes up a position as a proofreader in local newspaper the Galway Chronicle. However try as she might, she cannot escape her demons, and she has to keep running despite the best efforts of Siobhan, and new love interest Conor O’Neill, to give her some stability.

Unknown to anyone, she plans a new life in Brazil, taking up a job teaching English in Rio de Janeiro. But even on the other side of the world she cannot escape her past, and her devastating secret.

Unforgiveable takes the reader not just across Ireland and the world but through the complexity of human nature, and the power of love and atonement. The locations Alison finds herself in thrum with life, from the relaxed vibes of Galway bars to the contrasting glamour and grinding poverty of Rio. McKeon is well acquainted with Alison’s chosen destinations, and it shows.


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