It’s a struggle for Sean to return to the pain and confusion of life — and it’s his duty to his family, rather than his love for them that makes him do so. This leaves him with a debilitating guilt.
A woman in Coventry hears a crash and wakes up with a start. She’s convinced the son she gave up for adoption has died, and will now never find her.
Thus begins A Second Life. And what follows is a heart-rending account of Sean’s struggle to come to terms with his past and find a route for a happy future.
His was a good story — he was endowed with loving parents, but when they told him, at 11, that he was adopted, he ripped up all the photos of himself, because
He had lost all sense of identity and belonging. His shameful past led to him never telling Geraldine his true identity.
Even now, as he starts a desperate search for his birth mother, he keeps Geraldine in the dark — and his long absences from home leave her flummoxed and hurt. Will he discover the truth about his birth and, most importantly, will it give him the peace he needs to allow his life to turn around?
This novel is a broad read that takes you back to the days when Magdalene laundry services and mother and child homes flourished. It also reveals the brutality and secrecy of the nuns, which makes it harrowing. The title refers to Sean’s second life — and could equally apply to his new life with his adoptive parents, or this new change after his near-death experience.
It could also have been directed at the author. In 1993, he wrote the original version. At the time, his sons were small — the same age as Sean’s children are in the novel.
While he was satisfied with his work at that time, he became less happy as the secrets of the Past became more apparent. He fretted and felt that he hadn’t got the story quite right. He rewrote the novel and added the truth from his extensive research to it.
There have, of course, been numerous books written, and many documentaries shown on the scandals of the church and their attitude towards women since the book was originally published (I co-wrote one myself — Whispering Hope, telling the true stories of five of the Magdalene survivors,) but this one is brilliant in showing, not only, the way unmarried mothers were treated back then, but in concentrating, more, on the pain and lasting trauma felt by her son, who, in truth, was one of the lucky ones.
Sean had a happy upbringing, a loving marriage and two beautiful children he adored, yet after his accident he could not find peace — and knew he never would until he could find out what his origins were. It was not an easy task, and there were many obstacles in his path.
Bolger’s best work is displayed in this beautiful novel. The plot twists and turns are driven by Bolger’s characters. Because they are all sympathetic and hold true to their beliefs, the reader will always root for them.
There’s also a mystery element to the novel that adds drama as well as colour. This is an impressive achievement that adds value to the canon.
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