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Caroline O’Donoghue infuses ‘The Rachel Incident’ with heartbreak and humor

Caroline O’Donoghue is the author of "The Rachel Incident".
Jamie Drew
Caroline O’Donoghue is the author of "The Rachel Incident".

We are living in the heyday of the millennial novel, thanks to writers like Ottessa Moshfegh, R.F. Kuang and Sally Rooney, and now there’s another talent to add to the list: Irish author Caroline O’Donoghue.

With “The Rachel Incident,” O’Donoghue gives us Rachel Murray, a young woman reflecting on her quarter-life crisis in Cork, Ireland.

During her college years, Rachel and her bookstore coworker, James, form an intense friendship and become roommates, spending nearly every minute together. Rachel has a crush on one of her college professors, so she and James organize an elaborate bookstore launch for the professor’s obscure academic publication. The two scheme to set the scene for romance — or at least seduction. But things don’t go as planned, and what happens that evening sets the course for the rest of the novel.

O’Donoghue imbues her characters with all the complexities of human experience — humor, heartbreak, secrets, betrayal, and the everyday struggles of holding a job and paying rent. It takes place in and around 2010, when the Irish economy is crumbling amid a global recession, so the millennial dreams and drama come with a hearty side of financial stress.

“The Rachel Incident” centers on Rachel and James and how their friendship develops and evolves over time. There are clear nods (and outright salutes) to the early 2000s sitcom “Will & Grace,” which featured a straight woman and her gay roommate. But O’Donoghue also explores issues of mental health, family relationships and reproductive rights. Best of all, the novel builds to an ending that feels surprising, realistic and utterly satisfying.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.