As a journalist for RTÉ (Ireland’s national broadcaster), MacMahon is perhaps more used to reporting the news than making it. But make it she did - in the book trade at least - when her debut This is How it Ends was snapped up immediately.
But MacMahon's day job played a big part in the genesis of This is How it Ends, which is set in Ireland during the autumn of 2008 as the economy teetered on the brink of collapse: “I’m steeped in news, and that seeps into what I’m writing. These extraordinary things were happening, that even months beforehand you would have thought couldn’t happen. Huge banks falling off the edge of cliffs and the fear that more might follow,” she says, over the telephone from her home in Dublin. “There was a sense that anything could happen—anything bad could happen. At the same time you had the election in the US with this extraordinary optimism, so you had this feeling that anything good could happen as well.”
This is How it Ends begins with American Bruno Boylan—who has just lost his job with Lehman Brothers—arriving in Dublin, determined to trace his Irish ancestry. He’s anxious about the forthcoming election—if Obama wins, he will return to the US; if the Republicans do, he’ll stay in Ireland. Addie Murphy lives on the Dublin coast, where she walks her beloved dog Lola on the beach every day. An architect hit hard by the recession, she’s moved in to look after her irascible father Hugo, a doctor who needs care himself after an accident. Addie and Hugo meet at a time in their lives (he’s 50, she’s nearing 40) when neither has any expectations of finding life-changing love—but, but against the odds, they do.
MacMahon describes the novel as a book about love. “It’s about life and family and relationships. It’s about death and our attitudes to it, and I hope that I’ve written a cheerful book about some of the difficult things in life . . . [and] about unexpected things happening for the good.” It’s also a novel about the simple things in life—walking a dog, listening to music, watching a sunset: “It’s hard not to make it sound corny when you talk about things like that, but in all of our lives those are the things that bring you joy, and that’s what I wanted to write about.”
This is How it Ends is the first novel MacMahon has had published, but the second novel she has written. She first started working on a novel back in 2003, when her twins were a year old, and she was working full-time as a news reporter. She started her broadcasting career on RTÉ radio, perfect preparation for novel-writing: “The life of this country plays itself out on the radio . . . You’re out and about with your little microphone and there’s a lovely independence to it. You are hearing people’s -stories and their wonderful way of telling them. So in terms of my interest in character and in people, there couldn’t have been a better job that you would do.”
This is How it Ends is out now, published by Sphere.