First published in Cinders Volume One: Issue Two
It’s been a long time since I read a book that felt so much like the memoir of a very old friend. But that’s how Rosita Sweetman’s voice come across on the pag
es of Fathers Come First. First printed in 1974, Lilliput Press have re-released the classic Dublin coming of age novel and its easy to see why. The novel follows Liz, a young woman in 1970s Dublin, who is so brilliantly drawn by Sweetman that she leaps up off of the page. After just reading a few pages of the book, I felt like I knew Liz.
The novel tells the story of a young girl trying to figure out her place in the world, living in an Ireland that is on the cusp of change but apparently hadn’t changed enough for women.
Liz is constantly trying to figure out the kind of person she should be and the people she should surround herself with, something I think most girls can identify with.
For that reason I wish I had this book when I was 16, if only to know that I wasn’t the only teen who questioned everything I was told about what the right way to behave was, or the about right way to act in order to get a boyfriend but whose first romantic excursions were less than perfect.
Liz is such a wonderful delight to read, giving a detailed window into life of teenagers in the 70s who, even withthe absence of the internet, are a great deal like girls today.
She is such a wonderful delight to read, giving a detailed window into life of teenagers in the 70s who, with the absence of the internet, are a great deal like girls today.
One of the most prevalent themes Sweetman shows in the novel are the double standards in both life, career and relationships for men versus women. These are things that Liz thinks about and fights against. She rages with the expectations that are placed upon her by her Catholic upbringing, the nuns who run her boarding school, the magazines she reads and the things that other girls say. There are entire chapters dedicated to the contradictions about life and men coming from all of these different sources which parallels all of the internet-based contradictions that follow young women around today.
The novel follows Liz’s life outside of school on to adventures in France and then back to Dublin. It explores her life with men and how she struggles with the woman that she wants to be and the life she has always thought that she should want. It perfectly captures the intensity of relationships when you are young and how those relationships can feel like your whole life. It also depicts the joy and fear of living on your own and what it is like to face life by yourself as an independent person.
With an ending that is vibrant and liberating, you get the feeling that Liz is standing on the precipice of a cliff where her new life will begin. The novel grasps the essence of what it is to be young, uncertain and absolutely sure that you are right. A window into another girl’s world that reads like you’ve accidentally picked up an old friend’s diary. It is at times honest, and familiar while also being uncomfortable and unflinching. It’s a novel that deserves a place on girls bookshelves now just as much as it did in the 1970s, perhaps even more.
Fathers Come First is published by Lilliput Press and available on http://www.lilliputpress.ie