Three Little Truths is out now.
Like Maeve Binchy and Marian Keyes before her, Irish author Eithne Shortall is well-known for writing romantic comedies with real depth and heart.
But with her third novel Three Little Truths, she swaps the romance of Grace After Henry and Love in Row 27 for the kind of ‘suburban suspense’ popularised by authors like Liane Moriarty.
The plot follows three women living on Dublin’s idyllic Pine Road – Martha, who moved here with her family under mysterious circumstances; Robin, a young mother back at her parents’ house after breaking up with her no-good ex; and Edie, who is eager for a baby and the acceptance of her new neighbours.
Each of these women is looking for her happy ever after on Pine Road, but will the painful secrets they keep prevent them from finding it?
Eithne tells STELLAR that the follow-up to Grace After Henry was initially supposed to be a love story. However, seven months and 20,000 words in, she realised it just wasn’t working – so she scrapped the whole thing and started afresh.
“Three Little Truths was the book that I had in my head the whole time I was forcing myself to write the other book,” she says. “I didn’t tell my editors what I was doing until I knew it would work out, and they weren’t happy that I was switching genre slightly!”
Much of the drama unfolds in a WhatsApp group set up between the ladies of Pine Road (a fictionalised version of a real-life group chat Eithne’s mam is in). The chat is supposed to be for organising poker games, but has inevitably descended into gossip about the neighbours, with no interaction or perceived infraction left unreported.
“I just thought it was a really good way to frame it, because you get what people think is happening in the WhatsApp group, and then you see what’s actually happening,” Eithne says. Pine Road exists almost as its own little world, where the curtains are constantly twitching. If it feels claustrophobic, it’s supposed to be: “[The women] start to feel like, ‘Is everyone watching everything that I do? Can I do anything without my movements being noted?'”
One issue that was on Eithne’s mind throughout the writing of Three Little Truths was what she calls minor sexual assault – the unpleasant, all-too-common incidents that are accepted as part and parcel of being a woman.
I recently wrote about the time a man filmed my legs and up my dress for a chunk of a bus journey. The experience left me shook, yet I did nothing. I’m still annoyed at myself and still trying to understand my reasoning. This woman is brilliant. https://t.co/ah7zzBUzwD
— Eithne Shortall (@eithneshortall) October 1, 2019
In particular, she was thinking of the time she caught a man attempting to film up her skirt on a late bus from Belfast to Dublin.
“I was reading with my feet up on the seat beside me, and you know, your skirt goes up a bit. At some point, I saw a light reflecting off the surface [of my book],” she recalls.
I kicked my leg in a knee-jerk reaction, and a phone fell on the ground screen up, so I could see that it had been recording. The guy in front of me had been filming my legs and up my skirt, or whatever he could get from that angle. I don’t know how long for. It was awful. I just started shaking.
“I didn’t say anything, and this is so amazing to me because I’m not timid, but I was just shook. I moved to the back of the bus and got off at the next stop.
“I never thought about it until a while later, when I was trying to tell it like a fun anecdote in the pub, and no one was laughing. And I wasn’t laughing. I felt a bit sick.”
One character in the novel struggles in the aftermath of one of these minor sexual assaults, while another subplot draws on a news story from last year in which a ‘rape list’ was found in a boys’ bathroom in a secondary school in Cork.
“I have other [incidents], I think all women do. These things happen to us but we just have to forget about it or pretend it’s a joke,” Eithne says. “Because we have to live with it.”
Three Little Truths expertly balances these more serious topics with a generous helping of intrigue and wit, making it the perfect page turner for you to curl up with this autumn. Now we just need someone to turn into a glossy, Big Little Lies-esque TV show…
Three Little Truths by Eithne Shortall is out now