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THE ALTERNATIVES by Caoilinn Hughes Kirkus Star


by Caoilinn Hughes

Pub Date: April 16th, 2024
ISBN: 9780593545003
Publisher: Riverhead

When a woman goes off the grid, her younger sisters’ search for her reopens old wounds and brings new insights.

The first chapter shows Olwen Flattery to be a dedicated professor of geology at the University of Galway, as nurturing of her students as she is of her partner Jasper’s two young sons. Yet when the scene shifts to her sister Maeve, a culinary star in London, Olwen has disappeared without a word to anyone. Irish author Hughes delicately establishes the characters and concerns of all four siblings before she sends them to hunt for Olwen. Maeve tangles with wealthy catering clients and her publisher over her desire to make gourmet cooking sustainable. Rhona, a high-powered political science professor at Trinity College Dublin, uses her government connections to advocate for citizens’ assemblies to end polarization and stalemate. Nell, scraping together a living from multiple adjunct positions at American colleges, can’t get tenure because she refuses to give her work “universal appeal,” focusing instead on teaching philosophy as a tool for living with more meaningful goals than success and money. Each sister is trying in her own field to halt humanity’s senseless rush toward political and ecological catastrophe; the words “alternatives” (to our wasteful ways) and “care” (for our planet and our polity) are used frequently. So when her sisters find Olwen tinkering with solar panels on a farmhouse near the Northern Ireland border, it seems her motives for leaving may be linked to their mutual concern for the planet’s future. Hughes slowly reveals the shared childhood trauma that forged the Flattery sisters’ convictions, and their resentments toward each other. Her moving, richly detailed portraits of their personal struggles give emotional depth to Hughes’ underlying theme: when we stop caring—for ourselves, each other, and the world—disaster will surely follow.

Intelligent, impassioned, and wholly satisfying.