Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Becoming Finola

Finally, it's cold enough to wear the scarves I crocheted a few winters ago. After reading The Friday Night Knitting Club and Knit Two by Kate Jacobs, I appreciate my handmade creations more than ever. Though imperfect, they've got a bit of me woven into them, and I love wearing something I've made. But right now I'm wearing something else around my neck. It's a necklace, a pendant, with a small silver charm on it, that I purchased from a new-age catalog while in an optimistic mood. One side of the charm has Sanskrit characters on it, and on the other side is the English translation, "Fearlessness". You may wonder what this has to do with anything. Don't worry, I'll get to the connection soon enough.

I've just read Becoming Finola by author Suzanne Strempek Shea. I decided to read this novel from an author I'd previously never heard of, because my good friend, Eriko, a breast cancer survivor (and one of the most energetic, upbeat people you'll ever meet), told me she'd read Songs From a Lead-Lined Room: Notes--High and Low--From My Journey Through Breast Cancer and Radiation by this author, who's also a breast cancer survivor. Interested in learning more, I searched on the author's website for possibilities, and then looked on amazon for her work. I ordered Becoming Finola, because the premise of this novel--a woman who goes to Ireland and adopts a new identity, that of the legendary Finola O'Flynn--intrigued me. Without giving away too much of the story, here's the basic premise of the book. Sophie, a 30-year-old single American, accompanies her friend, Gina, to the remote, seaside village of Booley in Ireland. Gina has generously paid for the three-month trip for both of them, and has even bought them each a travel wardrobe. Gina has just suffered some recent losses and believes that Booley, rainy and mystical, is the place for healing. But the day after they arrive in Booley, Gina unexpectedly heads back to America, and insists that Sophie remain in Booley, in the cottage of Liam and Finola (who has left). Sophie does stay, blends in with the locals, and begins to work in Liam's craft shop, stringing bracelets which prove to be irresistible to the tourists. She makes one-of-a-kind bracelets with charms and beads, and puts labels on them that say things such as "gratitude" and "life" and "self-esteem". And that's the idea behind the pendant I'm wearing. Even though it doesn't really give me courage (who am I anyway--The Cowardly Lion?) it reminds me to face life fearlessly, or at least more fearlessly. In the book, Sophie a.k.a. Finola invents the powers that the labels on her bracelets suggest, but the wearers believe they are now empowered by the "magic" bracelets from Booley, and therefore, they are. This is the magic of belief. As customers in the shop, mostly tourists, assume that she's Finola, Sophie doesn't correct them and in fact soon adopts Finola's identity as her own. Sophie, who is now known as Finola, receives many letters thanking her for the magical effects of these handmade bracelets. (These letters from the customers are great fun to read!) Sophie realizes she's actually becoming the legendary Finola (whom everyone in the village has a story about), taking over her role in the shop and elsewhere, living in her home, wearing her clothing, and offering new words of wisdom.

While reading this book I had to slow down to appreciate the abundant humor in the author's sentences. I won't spoil the book by telling you more; I'd hate to have to add a "spoiler alert" to this post. But I definitely recommend that you read Becoming Finola and find out what happens. And although I've never really desired to be anyone other than myself, if I had to be someone else, it would be a toss up between Finola O'Flynn and Angelina Jolie.


  1. Great description of this novel! Now I am intrigued and want to read it. Thank you Susan for mentioning how you heard of this author. It's always wonderful to share wonderful stories from authors we love!

  2. Thanks! I can lend you my copy of the book sometime, Eriko. (The bracelets Sophie makes in the book reminded me of the beaded bracelets you used to make, although you didn't label yours.)

  3. Hey Suko! thanks for swinging by my blog. I loved this post. What a great sounding book! I have to pick up the other one, the survivor one too, as my sister in law is a survivor and she would like to read it, I suspect.

    Come back anytime, I love readers!

  4. Thanks, Kim. I'll add you to my blogroll, too!

  5. Hi Susan,

    Rebecca is wearing a scarf she just knitted. Now, she is knitting me one. Knitting is HOT!;) However, I am currently being ignored due to this new hobby. Thanks for the great book reviews.

  6. Love this review and, as always, the personal tidbit so lovingly woven into your posts. I'll be checking out both books, as my friend's sister has recently has a diagnosis of stage 3 1/2 breast cancer. She's looking at a lot of chemo and many bumps in the road to recovery. These books may both benefit her. (And me!) Thanks so much.

  7. Sharing good books and authors with others is really enjoyable. Thanks, K and Christie, for your comments. I really value the feedback!


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