When I read online last year that a book was being written based on the famous Facebook group, Oh My God What A Complete Aisling, which I was a member of, I was sceptical. Actually more then that, I rolled my eyes when I saw it. The group post’s, which when it popped on my timeline, made me chuckle on occasion but a book about it? I thought whos idea was that? Who is going to write it? And who in the name of God is going to buy a copy of this drivel? Overall I wasn’t expecting much.
Any tiny amount of research into the project, I would have discovered that the book was being written by the group’s founders and journalists, Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen. Perhaps if I did I wouldn’t have been such a cow and elitist about the whole thing. I remember eating a lot of humble pie the following Christmas when the novel, and the first book in the Aisling trilogy, Oh My God What A Complete Aisling, outsold David Walliams in the Irish Christmas charts. However, I still wasn’t compelled to read it.
Then one day during this past summer, I wandered into my local Eason’s in Navan and I saw the book was on sale €6.89 and I thought what’s the harm in getting it. I read it within the day. I had just come home from a year abroad in Germany and wasn’t feeling happy at home yet. This book reminded me what I love about Irish culture.
The joke that started in the Facebook group that extends to the book is that Aisling is your basic Irish girl from outside of Dublin, loves Ed Sheeran, shops in Dunnes Stores, goes home every weekend, still with the guy who was one of her 21 kisses and complains about notions every time you suggest going for brunch. We all know one. My friend Megan turned to me one day and went ‘I’m such an Aisling’ and I couldn’t stop laughing because her mannerism all now suddenly made sense.
Perhaps one of the reasons I resisted getting the book until it was on offer (very Aisling of me) is that the idea of being an Aisling myself made me embarrassed. I’ve never understood going home every weekend and watching the late late show with your parents or the idea of going on holidays to Spain and wearing your GAA jersey and going into an Irish bar. I felt my interests were much more cultured than that. I was above these basic Irish traditions and any association with it would be an embarrassment. I would never want other people to think I’m like that. I read The Guardian, for God’s sake.
But every Irish girl is a little bit of an Aisling. While I do enjoy brunch, I do give out about notions. When I arrived back to my local Supervalu at Christmas after being away, I was shook at the wooden panelling and varying different food now available, thinking do they know we’re in Johnstown, Navan. Or people paying full price for clothes when they’ll be on sale soon enough in a few weeks. How after coming back from a wedding to my hotel room, I made sure my alarm would go off early enough to get the paid breakfast the next day. And of course, bragging about how much I paid for a discounted dress. Aisling reminded me that these are qualities to be proud about.
What’s so important about Aisling is that this is an Irish female character that is fully formed, funny, important person. Often it’s been Irish male characters that have gotten to be funny and witty. My first article for this paper as Arts and Events editor was about the importance of ordinary female character (if you can’t promote yourself, then no one will), talking about how ordinary female stories with real depth is what is needed. But Irish women are often just portrayed with a tragic backstory or looking after whatever man is around. Some of the best stories about Irish people have been about ridicule and shame. And yet here was a book about an Irish woman who thought she was high off a pill she took in Berghain in Berlin but it turns out she actually took a Panadol.
And yet Aisling is so much then this fluffy female character. She has real depth and deals with many of life’s hardships including her friend having to go to England for an abortion, the end of her long-term relationship and the death of a parent and. It’s easy to imagine a girl like Aisling wouldn’t want to talk about abortion and Aisling herself sees that in her mother who she says ‘always turns off the radio when abortion is mentioned’ but it’s not because she is against abortion but it’s because she had one herself and couldn’t deal with the shame of it all. Aisling is just like the rest of us like that as well. She is just trying to get through the day.
Aisling reminds me of how far Irish women have come and what we have done over the last number of decades. Reading the part about Aisling’s mam having the abortion after the repeal the 8th amendment, told me that happened because of the Aisling’s in this country. And we should be proud of that. I think these books are a love letter to Irish women.
While I have yet to start The Importance of Being Aisling, I have hopes for her. I hope she ditches the boyfriend, I hope she continues going to brunch and I hope she got Westlife tickets. But mostly I want her to never feel ashamed about who she is because who else is going to remind the rest of us to bring our coats out before we leave the house on a night out, to drink a pint of water before going to bed after the night is over and remind of us of our behaviour the next day. Like Aisling herself, it’s important and significant.
By Ailbhe Longmore – Arts Editor