Kennedy’s Cafés & Chocolate are set to celebrate their centenary year. To mark the occasion, the man at the helm, Owen Kennedy and his right-hand woman Ruby Hart are branching out the business into the wine industry.
Owen and Ruby travel to Italy to meet with potential business partners while Owen’s estranged wife, Katherine, ventures to Kenya to meet with the Kenyan Coffee Growers Society. The Kennedys’ attention however, seem to be on everything except their business. Owen’s head is turned by the sensual Emma Boselli, and Katherine becomes captivated in everything that Kenya has to offer except for the coffee beans. While juggling an increased responsibility for Kennedy’s in alluring Italy, Ruby herself is trying to resist the advances of frisky farmhand Alfonso and continues to hide an old secret.
It’s not often that I read a novel with so many varied strands as The Other Woman has. The novel is split between Ireland where Kennedy’s Cafés has its base, and Italy and Kenya as the Kennedys start to stray into more exotic climes. Taking in the conception of Kennedy’s Cafés in Vienna in 1896, a Maasai village in Kenya and the vineyards of Santa Lucia, Siobhán McKenna weaves together a novel that is as rich in chocolate, fine Italian wine and coffee beans as it is in storytelling. Perhaps it was this variation in storytelling that caused me to never know where the story was heading as it certainly wasn’t predictable. The detailed research that McKenna has evidently carried out ensures that The Other Woman is an authentic and intelligent novel.
Throughout the novel, I felt closest to Ruby: considerate and spiritual and perhaps a bit lonely following her separation from her husband and her twin sons’ removal to Australia for a gap year. She is also an astute businesswoman, without whom Kennedy’s Cafés might not have reached its centenary year. She is trying to hold both the business and Owen and Katherine together as their marriage starts to crumble. I didn’t always feel like I had much of an insight into Owen, and Katherine was also a bit of a mystery. At the start of the novel, it would be difficult to imagine the appearance-anxious Katherine, swapping a bored but easy existence in Ireland for a hotel room overlooking a watering hole in Africa. Yet Katherine started to become a real character when she left Ireland, living and experiencing again after a tragedy numbed her.
Before I started reading, I assumed that this novel would be centred around one woman, as the title would suggest. I found the title slightly misleading; the novel wasn’t about one woman, but many people and it gave the book a mixed message as it wasn’t focused on the concept of ‘the other woman’.
Siobhán McKenna’s second book is confident and vivid, crafting together a fine blend that Kennedy’s would be proud of.
7/10MORE ABOUT THE OTHER WOMAN