Book review: Megan Nolan builds powerful novel from wreckage of a family

Waterford-born writer’s second book, Ordinary Human Failings, elicits sympathy for deeply flawed characters, balanced with a cooling dose of realism

Megan Nolan’s moving new novel Ordinary Human Failings moves between London and Waterford. Picture: Stuart Simpson/Penguin

“We’re just an ordinary family, with ordinary unhappiness like yours.” Perhaps, to misquote Leo Tolstoy, each unhappy family is unhappy in the same way.

Such unhappiness, more often than not, is the result of our ordinary failings. The past always comes around to collect. “The things you did or failed to do could not be erased by anything, not even love.”

The work of Megan Nolan, a talented Waterford-born, London-based writer, has featured in The New Statesman and The New York Times among other publications. Nolan’s portrayal of a young woman being undone by life in her 2021 debut novel Acts of Desperation was very impressive and much was expected from this follow-up.