In 1982 Jasmine wants to box, but in 1980s Ireland boxing is illegal for girls.
In 2012 a gynaecologist agonises about a job offer which would mean escape from the increasingly fraught atmosphere of her Dublin hospital. But what about her mother, stuck in a nursing home?
And in Maryland Ali, whose mother has recently died, hooks up with a biker gang to escape from grandparents she didn’t know she had.
Gradually revealing the unexpected connections between the three women, A History of Running Away is a brilliantly written novel about running away, growing up and finding out who you are.
I found it difficult to review this book for a number of different reasons. I enjoyed the story and it is very beautifully written, but it frustrated me in a few ways as well. The story follows three different women: Jasmine, a young Irish girl who runs away from her home in 1982, and takes up boxing even though it is illegal for girls to participate in matches. Then there’s Ali, who’s mother has passed away. She’s been forced to leave everything she’s ever known and live with grandparents she didn’t even know she had, and who ultimately aren’t that interested in her. Then there’s the final unnamed character, a doctor living in Dublin with an ailing mother. She’s been offered a new job that would mean a move to London, but then she’ll need to leave her mother, and they’ve been through so much already.
This story is really powerful, the three points of view are woven together seamlessly and as their journeys become linked together it’s a very masterfully written story. The settings are all well written and come alive in McGrath’s prose: London in the 1980s, followed by Dublin at the same time. The reader is then transported to Tennessee in 2012. Each setting is vivid and realistic, bringing the to the forefront of the story. I really liked the way the stories joined together, and I thought the ending was satisfying, giving the reader the answers they’re looking for and giving the story a good ending.
For me though, there were a couple of things I wasn’t so keen on. The three points of view are not split evenly – the story predominantly focuses on Jasmine in the 1980s, learning to box and escaping the life she left behind. I was less interested in the boxing and more interested in what was happening to Ali in Tennessee and the unknown doctor dealing with the job offer and her ailing mother. It frustrated me because I really wanted to know more about these characters, but the story predominantly focused on Jasmine. My proof copy also has a slightly different blurb to what the final one is, and it suggests a completely different tone of novel. There’s also no mention of boxing, as sport is not something I am particularly interested in, I found it difficult to enjoy those aspects of the book.
Despite this I still enjoyed the story. The characters are really fascinating, they’ve complex human beings who make mistakes and pick themselves back up. It also highlights the social attitudes of the time – being unable to box, but also about issues such as racism, sexism and abortions. It is certainly a thought-provoking novel, and although I guessed what the link between the characters was, that by no means lessened my overall enjoyment of the book. If you’re looking for a masterfully written story that seamlessly weaves different voices together – this is definitely a book you’re going to love.