What Anna McPartlin’s novel Apart from the Crowd lacks in lyrical writing or impressive prose, it more than makes up for with an engaging story, warm characters and a dynamic plot I found anything but predictable. In an interesting character study without a ton of “action,” Apart From the Crowd was a winning, moving story of family and friends struggling with mistakes and wrong turns they’ve made that have brought them to the present — flaws and all.
Mary stands as the central character of the novel, but there are really so many people in Kenmare, Ireland to examine, it’s sometimes difficult to keep all of their turmoils straight. Mary is struggling to move on from a life marred by tragedy — the death of her mother, her boyfriend and her young son, though not all at once, have come to define her life completely. She’s often felt trapped with their ghosts as she journeys through a quiet life in Kerry with Mr. Monkels, her dedicated dog companion. The arrival of Sam Sullivan — packing plenty of angst, secrecy and pain of his own as he hopes to settle down and reconnect with his beloved grandmother’s homeland — changes her life irreparably. Slowly and with plenty of gentle guidance, Sam and Mary come to be understood and ease each other out of the woods, so to speak.
While Sam and Mary do seem like the “central” relationship in the book, they’re definitely not the only characters of importance. The book is sprinkled with fully-developed cousins, aunts, grandmothers and lifelong friends, all of whom people the novel in a warm, engaging way. Mary’s cousin Ivan is also struggling to move on after his wife leaves him for another man, taking their two children in tow. Penny, Mary’s childhood best friend and journalist, has become a raging alcoholic after ending a long, painful affair with her first love, Adam — a man who married someone else while Penny was out trying to make a name for herself in the world. Sam’s American girlfriend Mia is searching for a way to make her identity her own — and stop living her life assuming another heartache is just around the corner.
So, you see, everyone has their troubles.
If it sounds dark and unpleasant, I can tell you sincerely that it’s not. McPartlin creates a winning character study and explores all sorts of “complex” issues with a light hand, discussing death, grief, drug and alcohol abuse with compassion. While her writing was certainly a bit clunky at points and I didn’t have to look too hard to find contextual and grammatical errors a few times, I was actually able to ignore these usually dealbreaker issues and be swallowed up in the story. I read on from page to page, drinking it all in. The book is full of delicate ambiance and beautiful scenery, all described well. And the progression of Sam and Mary’s relationship was surprisingly authentic — slow, realistic and kind.
Without giving anything away (I hope), there were several surprises I didn’t see coming — and with which I was definitely not disappointed. While not everything is perfect by the end of the story, things are good — and on their way to being excellent. And that’s just fine by me.
4 out of 5!