The dark undercurrents of family life

‘There’s Something I Have to Tell You’ by Michelle McDonagh (Hachette Books, 2023)
Design: Hrishik Roy

The title of There's Something I Have to Tell You hints at secrets that are buried deep—as well as the kind of truths that often lurk just beneath the surface. And this finely-textured novel delivers plentifully on both. 

Set in contemporary Ireland, the story delves into the tensions that often exist in extended family life, however much people may sometimes wish to pretend otherwise. Just how damaging this kind of denial can be is brilliantly demonstrated in this masterful novel.

The small town of Glenbeg is reeling from the shocking deaths of Jimmy and Ursula Kennedy, a well-liked local farmer and his rather less popular entrepreneur wife. The mystery of how it happened, and the revelations about how people actually feel about Ursula, complicate matters further.

While most people in Glenbeg are not aware of Ursula's humble beginnings, her poverty-stricken childhood fuelled her aspirations to create a different lifestyle for her own family, and was also a major factor behind the business empire that Ursula built by utilising the resources of the family that she married into. But her snobbish behaviour and her relentless greed inevitably alienated many people. Not that Ursula ever cared what people thought of her!

Her husband Jimmy was known to be in the early stages of dementia, but no one is able to explain how their bodies were found in an odd location on their family farm - namely, the slurry pit, which should not have been operational at the time.

Along with the general dislike that had long been felt towards her, Ursula was not known for her gentle treatment of family members either, the one exception being her problematic brother. 

Her eldest son Mark committed suicide under mysterious circumstances a few years before his parents' deaths, and her sensitive daughter Christina has been irrevocably damaged by Ursula's lack of maternal warmth.

Clearly no contender for Mother of the Year, Ursula also repeatedly broke her promises to her second son Robert and his wife Kate, who lived on the farm and worked alongside the older couple. Their marriage was on the verge of disintegration immediately prior to the two corpses being found at the farm, so it could truthfully be said that Ursula's death gave Kate and Robert a second chance at working out their relationship.

Despite an initial wave of sympathy, questions are quickly raised about the possible role played by the Kennedy family members in the death of the matriarch and her husband.

There are family secrets aplenty, as well as those who fear the discovery of them, but is it really reasonable to think that Jimmy and Ursula's awful deaths could be laid at the door of any of their nearest and dearest?

What I loved about There's Something I Have to Tell You is that it combines the intrigue of a suspense novel with a high level of psychological insight, and the kind of skilful character development that is all too rare - especially in a first novel.

Too often, all that a suspenseful domestic drama offers is a sense of growing tension and a series of plot twists. By contrast, this story is well-written and feels more like easy-to-read literary fiction. But it also delivers some thrilling plot twists, and works well as a compelling murder mystery.

The author, Michelle McDonagh, does an excellent job of keeping readers engaged without resorting to sensationalism or stretching credulity in any way. This is one of those debut novels that has clearly been brewing in the writer's mind for some time, and readers will benefit from the maturity of the narrative. 

The final chapters of the novel sharply pick up the pace, and as layer upon layer of the truth emerges, the cleverness of the storytelling  becomes increasingly evident. 

The suspense in this book is initially more of a gradual unfolding, but it firmly holds the reader's attention throughout. And it is safe to say that things get a lot more complicated before they get simpler…


Farah Ghuznavi is a writer, translator and development worker. Her short story collection Fragments of Riversong was published by Daily Star Books in 2013. 



৫ ঘণ্টা আগে|শিক্ষা

‘চলমান মেগা প্রকল্পগুলো শেষ হলে, শিক্ষাখাতে মেগাপ্রকল্প শুরু করা যাবে’

শিক্ষামন্ত্রী দীপু মনি বলেছেন, 'আমাদের যে মেগা প্রকল্পগুলো চলছে, সেগুলোর কাজ শেষ হলে আমি বিশ্বাস করি শিক্ষাখাতে মেগা প্রকল্পের কাজ শুরু করা যাবে। শিক্ষাই হবে আমাদের মেগাপ্রজেক্ট।'