A fast-talking young woman sets out to help her family at the height of Ireland’s recession in this language-driven debut.
From a young age, Gael Foess is a hustler: ambitious, arrogant, and more capable than most adults. After her father walks out, Gael must care for her unusual family on her own. There's her mother, Sive, conductor for Ireland’s National Symphony Orchestra, who struggles with an impenetrable depression and is largely distant toward her children, and Guthrie, Gael’s holier-than-thou younger brother, who suffers seizures from a mental disorder that result in beautiful visions. While Sive and Guthrie each possess artistic genius they don’t know how to spin into comfortable livelihoods, Gael’s true talent lies in convincing unsuspecting strangers to believe the stories she weaves out of air. “The recession made it worse: the false-humility epidemic,” thinks Gael. “But it’s not enough for your relatives to know your worth. For your gifts to be put in a cabinet like ornamental photo frames, destined to tarnish.” Instead, Gael wants her family to shine. She tries first to scam her way into London Business School, then steals her mother’s compositions to solicit interest from orchestras around the world, and finally flies to New York at the height of the Occupy movement to sell a stunning set of Guthrie’s paintings. When a trendy gallery shows interest but requires more paintings to secure a show, Gael hires an artist to forge her brother's work. This is both Gael’s crowning achievement and a move that isolates her from her loved ones. For a novel with a con-artist heroine, Hughes’ debut is oddly quiet and language-focused. Most of the action takes place off-stage or in long passages of dialogue relayed well after the fact. But Hughes delivers a compelling exploration of what it means to create art, skewering the arbitrary restrictions of art-world gatekeepers along the way. At the emotional heart of this book lies a darker question, though: What does it mean to make a performance of your own life, in service of your family, when the cost might be to lose them forever?
As strange, musical, and carefully calculated as its unusual heroine.