When Kevin Gogarty’s eighty-three-year-old mother is caught shoplifting yet again, he has no choice but to hire a caretaker to keep an eye on her. Kevin, recently unemployed, is already at his wits’ end tending to a full house while his wife travels to exotic locales for work, leaving him solo with his sulky, misbehaved teenaged daughter. Into the Gogarty fray steps Sylvia, the upbeat home aide, who appears at first to be their saving grace—until she catapults the Gogarty clan into their greatest crisis yet.
“Bracing, hilarious, warm” (Judy Blundell, New York Times bestselling author), Good Eggs is an irresistibly charming study in self-determination; the notion that it’s never too late to start living; and the unique redemption that family, despite its maddening flaws, can offer.
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Chapter 1 1
Three-quarters of the way to the newsagent’s, a trek she will come to deeply regret, Millie Gogarty realizes she’s been barreling along in second gear, oblivious to the guttural grinding from the bowels of her Renault. She shifts. Her mind, it’s true, is altogether on other things: the bits and bobs for tea with Kevin, a new paperback, perhaps, for the Big Trip, her defunct telly. During a rerun of The Golden Girls last night, the ladies had been mistaken for mature prostitutes when the screen went blank (silly, the Americans, overdone, but never dull). After bashing the TV—a few sturdy blows optimistically delivered to both sides in the hopes of a second coming—she’d retreated to her dead Peter’s old sick room where she’s taken to sleeping ever since a befuddling lamp explosion had permanently spooked her from the second floor. Here, Millie had fumbled among ancient woolen blankets for her battery-operated radio and eventually settled down, the trusty Philips wedged snugly between a naked pillow and her good ear, humanity streaming forth. Her unease slowly dispelled, not unlike the effect of a five-o’clock sherry when the wind of the sea howls round her house postapocalyptically. Even the grimmer broadcasts—recession, corruption, lashing rain—can have an oddly cheering effect: somewhere, things are happening to some people.
Now a BMW jolts into her peripheral vision, swerves sharply away—has she meandered?—and the driver honks brutally at Millie, who gives a merry wave in return. When she stops at a traffic light, the two cars now parallel, Millie winds down her window and indicates for her fellow driver to do likewise. His sleek sheet of glass descends presidentially.
“Sorry!” she calls out. “I’ve had a frozen shoulder ever since the accident!” Though her injury and her dodgy driving bear no connection, Millie feels some explanation is due. She flaps her right elbow, chicken wing style, into the chilled air. “It still gets quite sore.” Millie offers the man, his face a confused fog, a trio of friendly, muffled toots of the horn and motors on past.
Before heading to the shop, Millie had phoned her son—technically, Kevin is her stepson, though she shuns all things technical and, more to the point, he’s been her boy and she his mum since his age was still measured in mere months. Millie began by relaying the tale of the unholy television debacle.
“Blanche had checked the girls into a hookers’ hotel without realizing,” Millie explains, “and the police—”
“I’m just bringing the kids to school, Mum.”
“Would you ever come down and take a look? I can’t bear to have no telly.”
“Did you check the batteries?”
“It doesn’t run on batteries. It’s a television.”
“The remote batteries.”
“Aha,” says Millie. “Well now how would I...”
“Let me ring you in two ticks.”
“Or you can take a look when you come for supper?”
“Remember? It’ll be your last chance, you know. I leave Saturday.”
“I may never come back.”
“Now you’re just teasing me.”
“And bring one of the children. Bring all of the children! I’ve got lamb chops and roasties.”
She had, in fact, neither. A quick inspection of the cabinet, during which she held the phone aloft, blanking briefly that her son was on the line, yielded neither olive oil nor spuds. A glimpse of the fridge—the usual sour blast and blinding pop of light—revealed exactly one half pint of milk, gone off, three or four limp sprigs of broccoli, and a single cracked egg.
“Or maybe I’m the cracked egg,” she muttered as she brought the receiver to her ear.
“That,” her son said, “has never been in question.”
Once inside Donnelly’s, Millie tips her faux-fur, leopard-print fedora to one and all. Millie Gogarty knows many souls in Dún Laoghaire and villages beyond—Dalkey, Killiney—and it’s her self-imposed mission to stop and have a chat with anyone whenever, wherever possible—along the windy East Pier, in the shopping center car park, standing in the bank queue (she would have no qualms about taking her coffee, used to be complimentary after all, in the Bank of Ireland’s waiting area), or indeed right in this very shop.
She sidles up to Michael Donnelly Jr., the owner’s teenage, pockmarked son who slouches behind the counter weekdays after school.
“Did you know in three days’ time Jessica Walsh and myself will be in New York for the Christmas? My great-great-great-grandnephew”—she has slipped in an extra great or two, as is her wont—“used to live in Ohio, but we’re not going there. Sure, there’s nothing there! I visited him once... oh I don’t know when, it’s not important.” She crosses her arms, settles in. “Christmas morning and not a soul in the street. Kevin and I—he’d just gone eighteen—we took a walk, mountains of snow everywhere, and there we were standing in the middle of the street calling out, ‘Hello? America? Is anyone there?’”
“That so, Mrs. Gogarty?” Michael says with a not entirely dismissive smile. He turns to the next customer, Brendan Doyle, whom Millie knows, of course, though Brendan appears to be deeply engrossed in his scuffed loafers.
She beams at them both, trailing away toward the tiny stationery section, a shelf or two of dusty greeting cards whose existence would only be registered by her generation. The young no longer put pen to paper. They text message. Her own grandchildren are forever clicking away at their mobiles with a frenzied quality Millie envies; she can’t remember the last time communication of any kind felt so urgent.
She selects a card embossed with a foil floral bouquet—“It’s Your Special Day Daughter!”—and reads the cloying message within. Once in hand, the itch to swipe the thing, the very last thing under the sun that Millie Gogarty, daughterless, needs, gains powerful momentum, until she knows that she must, and will, take it.
She checks the till. Michael is ringing up Brendan’s bars of chocolate. The last time he’d crossed her path was in the chemist’s—he’d been buying a tube of bum cream, the thought of which now makes her giddy. Her pits dampen as she prods open the cracked folds of her handbag, pushes its chaotic contents—obsolete punt coins, balls of hardened tissue, irrelevant scribbles—to the depths so that it gapes open, a mouth begging to be fed. Her stomach whoops and soars. Her heart, whose sole purpose for days upon days has been the usual, boring biological one, now thumps savagely. With a wild, jerky motion she will later attribute to her downfall, she plunges the card into her bag.
Millie breathes. Feigning utter casualness, she plucks another card, this one featuring a plump infant and an elephant. She smothers a laugh. Perhaps Kevin’s right: perhaps I’ve finally gone mad! She steals another glance at Michael, who meets her gaze, nodding imperceptibly, and so she chuckles, as if the words inside particularly strike her fancy. Millie has sensed a calling to the stage all her life and she holds out a secret hope that she might still be discovered. Indeed for a moment, Millie Gogarty marvels at her own audacity, pulse pounding yet looking for all of Dún Laoghaire as calm as you like. Her mind turns to supper—one of the grandchildren could turn up—and so she boldly heads toward a display box of Tayto crisps and nicks a packet of cheese and onion and a Hula Hoops.
Flooded with good cheer and relief, she fairly leaps back into her car, the spoils of the morning safely tucked beside her. She’s situating her left foot on the clutch, right foot poised to gun the engine and soar off back to her home, Margate, when she hears a timid knock on her window.
It’s Junior from the shop, not a smile on him. A panicky shot of darkness seizes her. Millie reluctantly draws down her window.
“I hate to do this, Mrs. Gogarty, but I have to ask you to come back in.”
“Did I leave something behind?”
He glances at her bag. “You’ve a few things in there I think you haven’t paid for.”
There follows a pause, long and telling.
“Sorry?” she says, shifting into reverse.
“I’m talking about that.” He jabs a fat, filthy finger at her handbag. The boy—barely sixteen, she reckons, the twins’ age, probably in the first year of his Leaving Certificate—yo-yos his eyes from the steering wheel to the bag, back to the wheel.
“My dad said I was to phone the guards if it happened again.”
Phone the guards!
Millie assembles her most authentic aw-shucks grin, hoping to emit the picture of a hapless, harmless granny. But her body betrays her: her face boils; pricks of perspiration collect at her hairline. This is the sorry tale of all the oldies, the body incongruent with the still sharp mind—tumors sprouting, bones snapping with a mere slip on ice, a heart just giving up one day, like her Peter’s. Millie’s own heart now knocks so violently, for the second time today, that she has the image of it exploding from her chest and flapping, birdlike, away.
Junior’s still staring at her. She puts the back of her hand up to her brow like a fainting lady from an earlier century; she can’t bear to be seen. Then a single, horrid thought filters through: if the police become involved, Kevin will find out.
Kevin cannot find out.
He’s already sniffing around, probably trying to build a case, with a stagey, lethal gentleness that terrifies her, to stick his poor mum into some godforsaken home for withered old vegetables. Millie Gogarty has no plans to move in with a bunch of wrinklies drooling in a corner. Her dear friend Gretel Sheehy was abandoned in Williams House, not five kilometers down the road. Gretel, needless to say, didn’t make it out.
Now a second, equally ghastly thought: what if her grandchildren, the Fitzgeralds a few doors down, or all of south Dublin, gets wind of her thievery? The potential for shame is so sweeping that Millie rejects the idea outright, stuffs it back into her mental lockbox where, wisely or not, she’s crammed plenty of other unpleasantries over the years.
Wildly, she considers feigning an ailment, a stroke perhaps? It, or something like it, has worked in the past, but she can’t, in her muddled thinking, remember when she last trotted out such a deception and vaguely suspects that it was here in Dún Laoghaire.
“I’m really sorry,” Michael says. He’s actually not, despite the acne, a bad-looking lad. “The thing is, I’ve already phoned the police.”
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Good Eggs includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Rebecca Hardiman. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
A hilarious and heartfelt debut novel following three generations of a boisterous family whose simmering tensions boil over when a home aide enters the picture, becoming the calamitous force that will either undo or remake them—perfect for fans of Where’d You Go, Bernadette and Evvie Drake Starts Over.
When Kevin Gogarty’s irrepressible eighty-three-year-old mother, Millie, is caught shoplifting yet again, he has no choice but to hire a caretaker to keep an eye on her. Kevin, recently unemployed, is already at his wits’ end tending to a full house while his wife travels to exotic locales for work, leaving him solo with his sulky, misbehaved teenage daughter, Aideen, whose troubles escalate when she befriends the campus rebel at her new boarding school.
Into the Gogarty fray steps Sylvia, Millie’s upbeat home aide, who appears at first to be their saving grace—until she catapults the Gogarty clan into their greatest crisis yet.
With charm, humor, and pathos to spare, Good Eggs is a delightful study in self-determination; the notion that it’s never too late to start living; and the unique redemption that family, despite its maddening flaws, can offer.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Despite their large age gap, Millie and Aideen have quite a lot in common. How are their circumstances and personalities similar? What makes them understand each other so well?
2. Although they all have various frustrations with one another, the Gogarty clan clearly love each other. What are some ways they demonstrate their affection, albeit in perhaps untraditional ways?
3. Each of the three narrators makes at least one big mistake over the course of the novel. Did you empathize with their decisions at all? How does author Rebecca Hardiman make Millie, Kevin, and Aideen sympathetic despite their mistakes?
4. Why do you think Aideen wants to be friends with the notorious Brigid? What draws them together?
5. Did you see the twist with Sylvia coming? What were some signs indicating Sylvia wasn’t exactly who she said she was? Why do you think Millie was so willing to place her trust in her caretaker?
6. Were you surprised that Aideen goes back to Millburn? Do you think her parents were right in sending her to boarding school in the first place?
7. One theme throughout the novel is wanting the freedom to choose your own path in life. Despite their best efforts, Millie, Kevin, and Aideen often run into problems with being able to make their own choices. How does each character react to a lack of freedom?
8. There are many funny scenes in the novel, in addition to its humorous tone. Which moments made you laugh, and how did they make you feel about the characters?
9. In Chapter 15, Millie thinks to herself, “Millie Gogarty is a survivor, a citizen of the Republic of Ireland whose mother clutched her brown rations books doled out in wartime with the triumphant sense of rising to the occasion; she is a great believer in making do.” Much of Good Eggs is about Millie learning to do more than “make do” and embrace life fully. Do any other characters need to learn this lesson too? If so, in what ways do they learn it?
10. We learn that Millie’s baby daughter died in infancy. Do you think this explains any of Millie’s character traits?
11. What do you think life will be like for the Gogarty family in one year? What will have changed, and what will be the same?
12. In what ways does the author evoke the Irish setting? How does it contrast with the scenes in Florida?
13. Do you think all the main characters in the novel are proverbial “good eggs?”
Enhance Your Book Club
1. With its big cast of characters, charming Irish setting, and often hilarious plot twists, Good Eggs seems perfect for a film or TV adaptation. Who would you cast as its main characters? What scene would you most look forward to watching?
2. Aideen’s poems are strewn throughout the novel. Have your book club members draw names and compose a poem about that person in the style of Aideen.
3. For your next book club, read another novel set in Ireland, such as Himself by Jess Kidd or Holding by Graham Norton. Discuss how setting is evoked in each novel and what you learned about Ireland from Rebecca Hardiman and the other author you select.
A Conversation with Rebecca Hardiman
Q: Good Eggs is both heartfelt and laugh-out-loud hilarious. Did you set out to write a funny novel, or did the characters you created inform its tone?
A: Thank you—I’m glad you laughed because, yes, I want you to laugh. It’s totally thrilling and humbling to connect with readers that way. The novel began with the quirky characters and the story unfolded as I imagined them in their lives. I love funny people and characters who bicker cleverly. Personally, I’m a huge fan of sad stories and serious books and sweeping epics, but my all-time favorite is writing that makes me laugh. Andrew Sean Greer’s Less, for instance, or David Sedaris, Fredrik Backman, Sue Townsend. I grew up reading and rereading the Adrian Mole books and they are still brilliantly funny.
Q: Did you write any hijinks for Millie and Aideen that ultimately got cut? What other mischief could they have potentially gotten into?
A: At one point, there was a gun involved, but I think I dismissed it as too outlandish, even for them. I had to rein in some of my wackier ideas because I didn’t want to go too keystone cops; I wanted to ground the fun in some reality. But now that I think of it, maybe they should have tied Sylvia up in a lifeguard tower on Clearwater Beach and held her for ransom, though who would have paid it? Or rented an 18-wheeler and gone on a cross-country road trip and picked up a few truckers along the way? Millie might have accidentally dropped her car keys in the Hoover Dam or chatted her way into the office of an unsuspecting Hollywood agent and pitched her life story.
Q: From Millie to Kevin to Aideen, there’s a wide range of ages and experiences in the novel. Did you find it challenging to write characters of multiple generations?
A: I liked the idea of three people at three very different stages in their lives. With Millie, I tried to imagine what it would feel like to have most of your life behind you: your spouse is gone, many of your pals are gone; how lonely and isolating that might feel. Everyone’s life is moving forward and you’re being left behind; you’re running out of time. I wanted to upend that. I liked having her fighting death every day by not giving up, even if it’s ultimately a futile fight.
With Kevin, who is roughly my age, I channeled my own domestic frustrations. It was cathartic to vent through his character because middle age can be a time of stuck-ness. If you’re lucky, you’re around the halfway point in your life. The choices you’ve made a decade or two ago—marriage, house, children, career—are fully manifest in your day-to-day. The idealism and dreamy lala-ness of your twenties are well behind you. You may be scratching your head going, “Wait, what happened to that dream?” Or, “I haven’t accomplished this” or “I failed that” and “What exactly is the point of all of this?” I found myself working through these questions as I wrote Kevin. Anyone who knows what it’s like to be a full-time stay-at-home parent whose spouse has a very demanding job knows you can feel frustrated, especially when your kids are young. You might start to resent the mornings your spouse goes into work and gets to read on the subway and speak to other adults all day long while you’re wiping smears of banana from the sofa.
For Aideen who’s straddling childhood and adulthood, I tried to remember myself at that age, how tumultuous life can feel. You want freedom and you desperately want to be an adult, but you lack confidence and wisdom and experience. You may care way too much about what others think. And you adamantly don’t want to be defined by your family, although of course it defines and shapes you more than anything. I remember when I was young, I’d write “I hate mom” in my journal and, on more than one occasion, underline the words violently. But of course I didn’t hate her—I loved her; I sought her approval. But I hated that she could stand in my way, that she had so much say in my life. So writing Aideen, I tried to recall all of that, and it also helped that I have teenagers of my own, so I had living, breathing samples of the species in its natural habitat to learn from.
Q: Family, of course, can drive us crazy like nobody else can. What in particular annoys Kevin, Aideen, and Millie about one another?
A: The characters love each other, they are always talking and interacting, they are all very engaged with each other, and at the same time they’re stuck with each other. I mean, what’s better than family, and at the same time, can any one group drive you more to the brink of lunacy? You are inexorably connected, and some days you want to run screaming and other days you put your arms around your people and you’re profoundly grateful. No one knows me or my vast limitations like my family; no one can push my buttons with such exquisite precision. I wanted to write a story about how it feels to be in a real family, but a funny one.
Millie is specifically frustrating to her people because she’s inherently rebellious and refuses to play by the rules. I mean, she’s a lot to take. She also refuses to confront certain realities as well as the fact that her actions impact her family, especially Kevin. Kevin, meanwhile, annoys Millie because she sees him as trying to control her life, which he has to do; she’s getting on and she needs help.
With Aideen, being a generation removed, the little vexations aren’t so intense. She gets annoyed with her grandmother but mostly because Millie can be embarrassing and, in her adolescent mind, that reflects on her self-definition. Which is her primary struggle, you know: who am I, what kind of person am I going to be?
Q: It’s a delight to see Millie and Aideen in Florida and out of their familiar surroundings. What did you want to show the reader about their characters via their trip? Why was it important to the novel—and to you—that they go to America and track down Sylvia?
A: I wanted to send them on an adventure because I thought it would be fun—fun to read and fun to write. If Millie and Aideen were put in a situation in which they had a shared goal and nothing left to lose, they might begin to change. Ripping them out of their country and their daily troubles would force them to become sharper, use their smarts, tap their potential, become more resilient, and also get to know each other and grow to love each other. Millie must track down Sylvia because she must seize her life, take control of her own fate, fight back, not give up. And of course they had to pull their own little con on Sylvia to restore justice.
Florida struck me as the perfect anti-Ireland—sunny, massive, alien, sprawling—opening up all sorts of possibilities. I hoped it would be a rich culture clash rife with humor, especially for a character as opinionated as Millie.
Q: There are so many novels about mothers and daughters, but mothers and sons, and also fathers and daughters, are less common. What dynamics in these relationships were you interested in exploring?
A: At one point, I’d flirted with the idea of three generations of women—grandmother, mother, daughter—but that’s a lot of strong, stubborn females, which is its own dynamic! I liked the idea of a hefty dose of male energy in the book, and I was interested in exploring the dynamic of responsibility in family—what you owe, what your duty is, how heavy and conflicted it can feel and, ultimately, how little we control.
Also, I liked the idea of switching up the classic stay-at-home mom scenario. At one point in my own life when our kids were very young, my husband, burnt out on his job, became the house-husband and I was the full-time worker. This went on for well over a year, a stretch of time which, much to my great fortune, spanned potty training. My husband was a really good stay-at-home father—way more chill than myself and a much better cook—and if the world of writing were more lucrative, we might still be in this setup. Some mornings, he and the boys would walk me down to the train station and stand on the platform to wave me off. It was fabulous. When I got home, I’d grill him about what it was like to be the one guy among six moms at play group (he loved it, needless to say).
Q: What are some of your favorite novels set in Ireland? Did they influence your writing at all?
A: I like to think that every book you read influences you and you hope, as a writer, that through osmosis you’ll learn something about the craft as you’re reading. I’ll often hear a lot of buzz about a novel and I’ll set out to read it with a very serious agenda of studying how the author is structuring her plot or building character, how the sausage is getting made. But almost invariably, I find somewhere over the course of the story that I’ve totally forgotten to pay attention to all that boring stuff and I’m just on a wild ride with the characters; I’m just enjoying it.
That said, yes, tons of specifically Irish writing has been inspirational. I mean, that country has famously produced so many amazing writers from the very beginning—poets and novelists and playwrights and screenwriters. The Irish truly are gifted storytellers, not just with the written word, but also in everyday life, in the pub or in the street or coffee shop or around someone’s kitchen table, chatting away into the wee hours. I love the wicked sense of humor, the clever wordplay, the funny roasts. The first year I lived in Dublin, there was a bronze statue installed in town of a James Joyce character, Anna Livia, a woman with long hair lying seductively in a water fountain. Almost immediately, probably seconds after the unveiling, she was being dubbed “The Whore in the Sewer” and “The Floozie in the Jacuzzi.” That’s so Irish; it’s just ingrained in the national psyche.
Some of my favorite modern Irish writers: pretty much every book Roddy Doyle has ever written, Sally Rooney, Column McCann, Jess Kidd’s Himself, Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls, Kevin Barry, Martin McDonagh’s plays are brilliantly creepy and chilling, William Trevor, Brian Friel, Maeve Binchy, Emma Donoghue. To write a book from the perspective of a little boy who’s been kidnapped and lives his whole life in one room? That’s crazy.
Q: Do you have a next novel in mind? Can you tell us anything about it?
A: I’ve got a couple of murky, cockeyed notions percolating. One of the seeds of Good Eggs was sewn when I was in college. I read a story in the paper about these two old ladies who break out of a nursing home with an elaborate plan to go to . . . Burger King. It was sort of tragic and darkly humorous. That stayed with me and a version of it ended up in the book. I’m always on the lookout for wacky characters, especially rebellious outsiders, and I have a fondness, in fiction and life, for people prone to stress. As someone who’s constantly succumbing to it, I do find stress very funny. And I’m particularly drawn to the absurd and hilarious in dark situations. There was recently a news item in England in which these thugs kidnapped a twelve-year-old boy and frog-marched him to a waiting van. They took him to a house to make him apologize. Why? Because he’d smashed their Halloween pumpkins. I mean, that’s insane! But it gets you thinking: How terrified did that kid feel being hustled into someone’s van on his innocent way home from school? And what kind of a person would get that worked up about vandalized squash?
Q: Most important, what does being a “good egg” mean to you? When did you decide it should be the title of this novel?
A: Growing up, the term “good egg” was constantly bandied about by my mother in our house. These characters, like all of us, are imperfect and flawed. They can be selfish and wrong and make bad choices, they sometimes hurt each other, as family can, or miscommunicate, but they love and care about each other. As the story progresses, they begin to see things from one another’s perspective and empathize, and they ultimately all forgive each other. They mean well and they’re decent and caring, all noble in my mind, and that makes them good eggs.