Jasmine Freeman reviews Irish writer Shauna Gilligan’s novel Happiness Comes from Nowhere.
In the novel Happiness Comes from Nowhere Gilligan begins by writing about her Irish Homeland. However the novel continues much differently, travelling through different countries and showing different ways of life, describing the streets of Rome and the cargo ships of Spain. In simple terms it follows the lives of the Horn family: Mary, Sepp and Dirk. It shows their lives intertwining with others, family, friends and casual acquaintances. These stories are set against the background of a changing world, more specifically a changing Ireland and a changing Dublin. Although the novel is not always a comfortable read, exploring difficult, at times painful issues it is always honest and displays real life. The strong characters that Gilligan constructs are relatable and though you might not always like them or the decisions they make it is easy to empathise as they are so very human. The novel may be gritty but the powerful image Gilligan creates is at times breathtaking at times seeming like poetry within prose.
This novel may hold particular resonance with students in Wales as the talented author Shauna Gilligan is currently completing a PhD in Writing at the University of Glamorgan. Being local to students of the area makes her work a little more remarkable. Perhaps what’s more impressive about this small but powerful novel is that this is Gilligan’s first publication. Although prior to this her work has been published in New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing and in The Ulster Tatler’s Literary Miscellany. She has also given public readings of her fiction in Ireland and USA and has presented on writing at academic conferences in Ireland, UK, Germany and USA.