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The Rachel Incident by Caroline O’Donoghue

The Rachel Incident is a book full of love, heartbreak and all the countless messy emotions that dominate your twenties. Set in 2010s Cork, it tells the story of Rachel and James, two best friends who develop an obsession with Rachel’s hot (married) professor. What starts as an inside joke leads to an intensely dramatic year for both friends at a time when they are already desperate to figure out what comes next: after college, after the recession, even after Ireland as their peers begin to emigrate.

O’Donoghue writes beautifully about women, their relationships and inner lives, but here she turns her keen eye to men and what it’s like to love them. Though there is a wealth of complex male characters, from Rachel’s boyfriends to her brothers to the hot professor in question, the book’s true love story is unquestionably the story of Rachel and James, two people who lean on each other to weather the storm of their twenties.

The fact that the story is narrated by an older Rachel adds a layer of depth and maturity that can often be missing from these ‘messy, selfish, early twenties’ narratives. As narrator, Rachel is able to criticise her own flaws and shortcomings, but she does so in a fond way, never condemning or writing off her younger self. As someone in her early twenties facing imminent graduation (from an English degree, no less), I really appreciated the respect and kindness O’Donoghue weaves into the narration. No, you’re not going to die if that guy doesn’t text back or if you have a fight with a friend, but you might feel like you will and that’s okay. We’ve all been there – Rachel certainly has.


“I wanted future nostalgia, a rear-view, years-old fondness for something that had literally just happened.”


Recommended by Siobhán

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