Rachel is a student working at a bookstore when she meets James, and it's love at first sight. Effervescent and insistently heterosexual, James soon invites Rachel to be his roommate and the two begin a friendship that changes the course of both their lives forever. Together, they run riot through the streets of Cork city, trying to maintain a bohemian existence while the threat of the financial crash looms before them. When Rachel falls in love with her married professor, Dr. Fred Byrne, James helps her devise a reading at their local bookstore, with the goal that she might seduce him afterwards. But Fred has other desires. So begins a series of secrets and compromises that intertwine the fates of James, Rachel, Fred, and Fred's glamorous, well-connected, bourgeois wife.
For all its cringing at the narcissism of youth, The Rachel Incident offers a tender reflection on those 20-something friendships that leave a permanent imprint ... One of the many lovable things about this novel is O’Donoghue’s kindhearted perspective on the awkwardness of the college years ... O’Donoghue has found a way to tell this story in scenes both heartbreaking and funny. She may not have Binchy’s sweetness, but she illuminates these Irish lives with a light all her own.
Exuberant, bitingly satirical ... O’Donoghue has something more sophisticated in mind, hidden beneath the shagging and banter. The Rachel Incident recalls the fiction of both Sally Rooney and Anne Tyler as the author interrogates the dynamics of power, from academia to publishing houses to bedrooms ... Rachel is astute and funny as hell ... A gratifying, accomplished novel.
I didn't just read Caroline O'Donoghue's latest novel, The Rachel Incident. I pigged out on it ... The plot might sound trite, even a tad icky, but all is not what it seems. Twists await. Some of them rely maybe too heavily on coincidence but they still manage to surprise. And what could have been lightweight is enriched by placing events against a backdrop of the recession of the early 2000s ... The framing device is sometimes clunky; a mature Rachel relates events from 10 or so years down the road, butting into the narrative when least expected or needed, apparently for the purpose of foreshadowing. But none of this stopped me from simply wanting to know what was going to happen and enjoying the heck out of this novel. I gobbled it down.