Meeting Millie Gogarty is likely one of the best things you’ll ever do in life.
An 83-year-old Irish woman from the village of Dun laogshire in Dublin, Ireland, Millie is growing old, to co-opt a well worn phrase, disgracefully.
Not that she is necessarily try to settle into a rebellious groove and stay there; she simply does and says what comes to mind, whether that’s a bit of petty larceny from the local newsagency, from which she is now unsurprisingly banned, or crashing her car into a wall at the supermarket and asking her carer to cover up the crime, or celebrating underdogs like her much put-upon granddaughter Aideen, Millie is having a fine old time of getting older.
Her son, Kevin, however, is not.
A handsome, in-shape 53-year-old who’s temporarily between celebrity magazine gigs – he yearns to be a writer of actual books rather than a hack for hire but hasn’t yet found a way to do that – Kevin is juggling a mother who shows no sign of yielding to societal norms any time soon, a 16-year-old daughter who’s bright and personable but seemingly intent on causing trouble wherever she goes, three other kids who consume time just by virtue of being kids, and a marriage to his soulmate Grace which isn’t awful but which has, if we’re being honest, some more lively and spontaneous days.
In Good Eggs by Rebecca Hardiman, these two opposing forces come head to glorious head in a novel that is jauntily mischievous, rich and warm, and funny in an outrageously over the top at times but still groundedly human way.
“She had, in fact, neither. A quick inspection of the cabinet, during which she held the phone aloft, blanking briefly that her son was on the line, yielded neither olive oil nor spuds. A glimpse in the fridge – the usual sour blast and blinding pop of light – revealed exactly one half-pint of milk, gone off, three or four limp springs of broccoli, and a single cracked egg.
‘Or maybe I’m the cracked egg,’ she muttered as she brought the receiver to her ear.
‘That,’ he son said, ; has never been in question.'” (P. 3)
Much of the fun of Good Eggs comes from reading about Millie colliding merrily with the rest of the world.
Always a little idiosyncratic even when she was raising Peter, but he admits, a good mum even so, Millie isn’t about to do what the world wants just because it says it wants it.
Inspired by the sitcom rebelliousness of The Golden Girls, a show she watches as much as she can if her telly isn’t on the blink, Millie isn’t sure why she steals cards and lollies or why she doesn’t eat right or why she feels the need to subvert convention wherever she goes; she just does, and we are all the richer for her unconventionality, her every utterance and act a joy for souls long constrained by all manner of rituals and expectations.
To be fair, Hardiman doesn’t celebrate theft or breaking out of well-secured nursing homes, though they are a lot of fun to read about frankly; rather she happily holds up Millie as an example of what happens when you’ve lost your dear husband of many decades, your home is rather the worse for wear and you’re not entirely sure what to do with yourself.
Finding time to not do anything is something that Kevin, by way of contrast, longs for.
Strung out to the limits by stay-at-home parenting and an inability to land a new job, one that will bring money into a household being held aloft by Grace’s high-paying corporate role, Kevin has to deal in the opening chapters of Good Eggs with Millie getting arrested for stealing once again, Aideen using a fire poker as a weapon (under duress, thank you) and Kevin fast running out of useful options.
He finally settles on placing Aideen in a boarding school, Millie with a carer, who turns out to be quite the catalyst for later adventures though not quite the one Kevin had in mind, and redoubling his job hunting efforts which predictably do not yield the expected results.
What makes Good Eggs such a giddily satisfying joy to read is that nothing in the lives of the riotously messy Gogartys really goes according to plan.
That’s true of pretty much everyone with best laid plans of mice and men etc never quite playing out as expected and and all of us scrambling to try and fit the errant trajectories of our life and that of our families back into neat, tidy boxes in which they simply won’t fit.
Life is, by its very nature and the quirks of human nature, not a cut-and-dried business, and Hardiman brings that headily and relatable to life with a novel that brims with wit, maniacally fun events but also a touching insight into the need we all have to be understood, loved and related to for who we are.
None of us – Millie, Kevin or Aideen, or any of of the others really – are problems to be solved; we are, rather, people who want to live lives that matter and if that means some chaotic sorting out to get there, then so be it.
“Kevin feels almost giddy by what is so clear: his daughter, his kooky, clever, stubborn Aideen, is a writer, or trying to be, and a good one, too. She’s gunning towards truth, as he himself once was.” (PP. 292-93)
None of us set out of course to create havoc, it just happens.
As Good Eggs makes affectingly but hilariously clear, all we really want is find a place in life that makes sense to us, that feels happy and settled and which keeps those we love close in a way that is truly understanding and unconditional.
Kevin just wants time to catch his breath, get a great career (he not sure what that is but he’ll know it when he sees it) and enjoy his wife and family while Millie, who isn’t sure why she steals stuff she doesn’t want or makes trouble, minor and major, at every stop is such a rabble rouser; Aideen, for her parts, just wants someone to think she’s attractive and pretty and worth their time, like her twin sister Nuala seems to manage with recklessly attractive abandon.
We all want lives that feel like they fit, with Good Eggs being all the getting there, however messy it may end up being.
Again, none of us wants messy, and honestly Kevin would settle for everything going according to his hastily thought-out plans, but messy is pretty always what we get because LIFE, and while Good Eggs is a little too over the top at times, it is, for the greater part, a heartwarming, enormously funny and insightfully human joy of a novel to read, one that celebrates the fact that life will never meet you where you are but if you let it will take exactly where you need to be, however all over the shop things might be in getting there.