A History of Running Away by Paula McGrath

Running away and finding home: A History of Running Away by Paula McGrath


A History of Running Away is a striking and unforgettable novel with three different narratives that weave their way to show how running away can help you find homes you never knew you had. The most substantial of these is Jasmine’s attempts in the 1980s to escape her small town Irish home for a big city, which does not go as planned. The other two are set in 2012 and follow a gynaecologist dealing with the pressures of working in an Irish hospital and worrying about her ill mother and a girl in Maryland running away after the death of her mother. These stories unfold in a gripping and honest way, showing how finding out who you are can be a difficult process.

McGrath’s writing makes for a tense read. The book’s structure, cutting between the narratives but allowing for a large amount of Jasmine’s to run through the centre of the book, draws comparisons between the acts of running away whilst allowing the characters’ other connections to come through. The novel’s backdrop is the political and social events of the worlds in which the characters live, from Irish abortion laws in the present day to racism and gender restrictions in 1980s Dublin. It is a book that doesn’t shy away from the issues that the characters face, but also doesn’t define them by those issues.

Jasmine’s narrative is the most engaging, as her story is followed through her repeated running away and attempts to work out what she wants to do and whether it is even possible to achieve those goals. Her friendship with Nigerian medical student George as he teaches her to box is a particular highlight, showing how an unlikely acquaintance can have a huge influence.

A History of Running Away is a fantastic read for anybody who enjoys well-written, character-centred books, particularly those which span time periods to show common themes and social issues, and those which focus upon a variety of women.