Philomena Nolan is an abused housewife and mother living among Ireland's working class in Peter Sheridan's EVERY INCH OF HER. The highlight of this novel is Philo and what makes her tick. She's one of those characters who will warm a person's heart, leaving an impression upon the reader and making her very unlikely to forget.
Her circumstances in life are not great. She has just run away from her husband and children to seek comfort at a convent, pretending to be a single woman without children. She tries to talk her way into the convent by claiming she has always wanted to be a nun. The tattoos on her body as well as her large size and gruff attitude make them a little nervous at first, but the nuns take her in, at least temporarily.
Appearances are often deceiving, and it is so with Philo. Her outward appearance may be that of a tough, crude woman, but in reality she has a heart of gold. Despite her personal problems, Philo finds ways to make others happy. She's a wonderful nurturer, and although not all of the nuns at the convent warm up to her right away, she eventually finds her way into everyone's heart --- at the convent and anywhere she goes.
Philo has many vices. She's a chain smoker, and living at the convent means that no smoking is allowed. She sneaks the cigarettes with the help of Sister Rosaleen, a nun who takes Philo under her wing, despite the disapproval of some of the other nuns. Philo and Sister Rosaleen bond and become good friends and co-conspirators at the convent, making for some very funny scenes throughout the novel.
Philo's other vice is food. Her mother has taught her that eating will always make her feel better. So if she's unhappy, she eats --- and she eats a lot. As Philo's weight approaches three hundred pounds, it is safe to say that food is always on her mind. Sneaking in bacon and eggs in the middle of the night while the rest of the world sleeps, or eating a handful of candy bars to pass the time, is a daily occurrence. She eats all she can during the wee hours of the morning, and then sleeps the food off in the morning. It is her way of coping with the many worries of her world.
Her main source of concern is her husband Tommo. He constantly berates her in front of the children, and has given her a black eye or two. Yet, when Philo runs away from him and the family, he always comes back to her, begging her to return, telling her that he's lonely and needs her. When Philo runs away this time, she refuses to return, despite the fact that Tommo has gotten rid of the children and placed them in an orphanage. Philo knows that the children are better off without their parents, yet she misses them so much. However, she thinks it's best that she stay in the convent to keep her children and herself safe from Tommo.
In the meantime, Philo's life is now centered on the convent. During the day she helps out at a senior citizens center, where she and the nuns help prepare food. With love and inspiration, Philo performs miracles at the center, creating new life and energy among the elderly, giving them newfound happiness. She gets them involved in Bingo, with the help of Sister Rosaleen, as well as a crazy game called Blind Date. From here, a subplot emerges --- that of the love story of two elderly persons at the center, Cap Coyle and Dina Sugrue, who have known each other for decades but have been sworn enemies due to a history that involves Cap's best friend Gerry, who later became Dina's husband.
Philo's life takes on new meaning as she helps out at the Senior Center, visits her children when she can, and plays matchmaker with Cap and Dina. But once again, Tommo reappears in her life, and it's not good.
One cannot say enough about EVERY INCH OF HER. It is beautifully written, told with a touch of humor. Sheridan does a good job at describing life in the North Wall, which can be hard, but there are plenty of friends and family to help one get through the day. It is a tale of one person's desire to survive, to find happiness, and to overcome insecurities and demons from the past. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Marie Hashima Lofton(Ratmammy@lofton.org) on January 21, 2011
Every Inch of Her