Review of The Rachel Incident by Caroline O’Donoghue @AAKnopf

I need to pen an ode about how many excellent writers are out there but one just has to find the time and, well, the writers. Caroline O’Donoghue has a podcast and has written YA novels, all of which I am going to check out now after reading The Rachel Incident.

Blurb: 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. Aching with unrequited love, shot through with delicious, sparkling humor, The Rachel Incident is a triumph.

Purchase Links: | Amazon

The first scenes of The Rachel Incident by Caroline O’Donoghue occur in 2022 but much of the novel takes place around ten years earlier as Rachel is finishing up her English degree and wondering what she’s going to do with it while the economy around her is floundering. She is working in a bookstore that she absolutely loves when her new co-worker, James Devlin, confuses her with Sabrina, another co-worker, despite the fact that Rachel is 5’11” and Sabrina is a tiny little thing.

At first, Rachel doesn’t know what to make of James. He seems gay, but insists he’s not, and has enough charisma for five. Somehow they become the best of friends and then roommates and are inseparable.

It’s with James’ help that Rachel puts together a book reading for her favorite English professor, Fred Byrne, at the bookstore, certain that it will also allow her to shag him in the stockroom. But the more she works on the reading, the more she realizes that her crush really isn’t meant to be, which is reinforced when Fred does corner someone in the stockroom and it’s most definitely not her. It’s her supposedly-not gay flatmate, James.

As James and Fred become a couple on the sly since Fred is married to Deenie Harrington, a publishing editor, Rachel gets into a relationship with James Carey, who she calls Carey because the James spot is already taken. And, with a little unintentional blackmail of Fred, Rachel gets an internship with Deenie. Everything seems to be coming together. Until it all falls apart, of course.

The turning point in The Rachel Incident is sad, astonishing, and anger-inducing in quick order. Although we readers know what’s going to happen at this point, we still react to the injustice as everything seems to fall apart for Rachel.

While I wasn’t always a fan of Rachel’s actions, my reactions may be more because O’Donoghue created a very realistic character in Rachel, a girl-woman straddling the line of becoming an adult, self-aware enough to recognize that she hadn’t outgrown her school-girl giggles, didn’t want a boyfriend, wanted intimacy, but didn’t want to be “ruined.” She is a complex character in a novel of layers and complexities. She recognizes her moments of pettiness for what they are and sometimes doesn’t see completely who she is.

O’Donoghue has a wry way of viewing the world, which comes across in her writing. She doesn’t hedge; she simply tells it as it is. Except for the Ipod classic, which, I’m sorry was not old before its time and holds the moniker “classic” for a reason. ( 😉 ).

While this may be O’Donoghue’s first adult novel, I hope it is the first of many to come.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

3 thoughts on “Review of The Rachel Incident by Caroline O’Donoghue @AAKnopf

    1. I hope I didn’t give the impression that a character’s likeability affected my reading of this novel, or any novel, for that matter. I actually think that a well-written character should be realistic, cringe-worthy at times because that is something that we all can relate to–well, hopefully all of us. 🙂 That said, a totally unlikeable main character may not provide the connection a reader needs to follow-through on the story. Rachel had some unlikeable qualities, but she was not unlikeable.

      1. No, not at all. You conveyed that the complexity of the character added depth. Something I really enjoy in a book

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