top of page
  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Review of The Rachel Incident by Caroline O'Donoghue

Caroline O'Donoghue's coming-of-age story celebrates friendship, young love, and life-changing decisions and missteps that shape the lives of her characters in 2010s Ireland.

In Caroline O'Donoghue's contemporary fiction The Rachel Incident, main character Rachel is an Irish university student working in a Cork bookstore in the 2010s. She's dating a boring but reliable young man from her high school and living at home when she meets James.

James is irresistible, vivacious, and mischievous--and Rachel is immediately swept into his powerful orbit. They move in together and she largely subsumes her life in order to be part of his.

I wanted to protect him against the world's many disappointments, guard him with my body like I would a baby or a small dog.

Meanwhile, she is bowled over by her handsome, opinionated literature professor, Dr. Byrne, and in an attempt to ingratiate herself to him, she insinuates herself into a complicated role of supporting the publication of his academic-press book through her bookstore job.

Rachel meets another James, James Carey (who she calls "Carey," as she already has a James), falling for him despite his sometimes-flaky behavior.

James comes out as gay, and a complicated web of relationships builds between Dr. Byrne, his wife, James, Carey, and Rachel.

Rachel is dedicated to both James and to Carey, and The Rachel Incident is centered around Rachel and her Jameses coming of age, making mistakes and missteps, struggling with money crises and career decisions, and figuring out where and how they want to be in the world.

Years later, Rachel runs into someone from her past, which spurs her to think back to the events and relationships that shaped her during her college years.

Despite some of the questionable, haunting choices that are made at times in the story, I was so taken with the characters that my cringing didn't hamper my enjoyment of the celebration of friendship, circuitous routes to self-confidence, and heartwarming second chances.

I loved The Rachel Incident--the story, the characters, and the vivid setting of 2010s Ireland.

I am good at a few things, but I am great at being married. As I learned that year in Shandon Street, there is nothing that my personality or my humour thrives on more than being able to see the same person at the same time every day. I thrive on overexposure, on elaborate jokes, on private mythology.

I received a prepublication copy of this title courtesy of NetGalley and Knopf.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

Caroline O'Donoghue is also the author of Scenes of a Graphic Nature, Promising Young Women, and the teen series All Our Hidden Gifts.

bottom of page