Below The Big Blue Sky by Anna McPartlin #RememberRabbitHayes


I read Anna McPartlin’s last novel The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes just last year and remember being profoundly moved by the story of Mia ‘Rabbit’ Hayes and her love for Johnny Faye. Johnny was the singer in her older brother’s band and Rabbit went from lurking around to catch sight of Johnny to becoming the band’s sound engineer. Sadly they didn’t have much time together as Johnny was diagnosed with MS in it’s most aggressive form and he died. They had a short but glorious time in love, but then Rabbit was diagnosed with cancer and also died young leaving behind her daughter Juliet. This sounds like a really heavy, issue led, novel but somehow the author managed to keep it light by bringing in the exploits of the band and the Hayes family. The Hayes family are a boisterous Irish clan who are as funny and fierce as they are loving and supportive. I really enjoyed the novel, so when I had the chance to read this sequel I couldn’t wait to get started.

This novel follows the aftermath of Rabbit’s death, from organising her funeral it covers a time period of two years. The entire Hayes family is in shock and everyone reacts in different ways. Her father Jack retreats to his attic and tries his best to get his daughter’s diaries published. Her mother, the formidable Molly Hayes, struggles with some of Rabbits final decisions. There’s the question of who Juliet will now live with, whether any of her other children have the ‘gene’ and firstly what on earth they will Rabbit wear for her funeral? All of which is told in well researched detail and with a hefty dose of black humour.

The author explores how people grieve differently. Some people shut themselves away and wallow in nostalgia. Others might put in a brave face to support others but feel like they are dying inside. Some get lost in distractions to avoid the pain. The author is very skilled at presenting family dynamics and how each person, although seemingly very different, fits into their place.. As a family the Hayes often argue, storm out and have to take time away to see things more clearly. It shows how grief is as individual as the relationship every character has had with Rabbit. Each character is trying to find a way to keep Rabbit close, relevant and present in their day to day lives. This could be through their faith, by talking to her still or by publishing a book so that every one of them can spend time with Rabbit between those pages. 

Finally, the author shows that life truly does go on despite most of the characters not being ready for it yet. Grief can make us feel like our life is on pause, but around us things are changing and we can’t stay still forever. So we see Rabbit’s best friend Marjorie struggling to build a relationship with her mother, who hasn’t always been there for her. Now she needs help and Marjorie needs to decide whether she can do it and whether she will always be in love with Rabbit’s brother Davey. Juliet has to start a whole new life with her guardian and starts to feel the stirrings of first love. Grace, the eldest sister, has a huge secret she knows will further devastate the Hayes family and can’t bring herself to tell. Molly’s exploits, including protesting the introduction of water charging in Ireland, are loud, comical and unexpected. She is an absolute powerhouse, supporting and feeding everyone, taking on waifs and strays and constantly pulling the family together. Yet she seems dogged by guilt and struggles with her faith, wondering whether Rabbit was right and there really is nothing after death. These are big subjects but I found myself laughing more than feeling sad. I loved the black humour that’s common where people are facing dark times and the warmth of the Hayes family. I could imagine each family member vividly thanks to the author’s skill in creating these characters. Once the novel was finished I knew I would miss them all.

Publication 23rd July 2020. #BonnierBooks

Thanks to #NetGalley for the ARC of this novel in exchange for my review.

Published by thelotusreaders

Hello, I am Hayley and I run Lotus Writing Therapy and The Lotus Readers blog. I am a counsellor, workshop facilitator and avid reader.

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