Shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize • Winner of the 2021 Kate O'Brien Award • Winner of the 2021 Dalkey Emerging Writer Award
Sinead Hynes is a tough, driven, funny young property developer with a terrifying secret. No-one knows it: not her fellow patients in a failing hospital, and certainly not her family. She has confided only in Google and a shiny magpie. But she can't go on like this, tirelessly trying to outstrip her past and in mortal fear of her future. Across the ward, Margaret Rose is running her chaotic family from her rose-gold Nokia. In the neighbouring bed, Jane, rarely but piercingly lucid, is searching for a decent bra and for someone to listen. And Sinead needs them both.
As You Were is about intimate histories, institutional failures, the kindness of strangers, and the darkly present past of modern Ireland; about women's stories and women's struggles; about seizing the moment to be free. Wildly funny, desperately tragic, inventive and irrepressible, As You Were introduces a brilliant voice in Irish fiction with a book that is absolutely of our times.
I didn’t tell a soul I was sick.
OK, I told a fat magpie.
She was the first beating heart I met after the oncology unit and she sat shiny and serious on the bonnet of the Volvo.
One for sorrow.
And I saluted her with that greeting you give when you find yourself alone and awkward with one magpie and she flew away, piercing her black arc through the sky blue.
An arrow points to You Are Here. This is OK. Breathe.
You are just a dot. Swirly Space.
No one will ever find you.
Good. This is a good thing.
After saluting Magpie, I sped at one hundred and thirty nine kilometres per hour out along the M6; stone walls hurled past and end days of August conspired with night, letting a cold dusk down. Thirty-nine. Fitting. On the car’s windscreen, a fog was creeping around my eldest son’s initials, traced inside a fat heart.
But I was Fine.
Father always told me I was Fine. So as the years went by I grew increasingly mistrustful of bad-news bearers. Miss Sinéad Hynes was fine. Father said so. I was Fine. I am Fine.
I will be Fine.
By Jesus when I get my hands on her, I’ll fucking kill her; I’ll throttle her, that little cunt. She’s fine, and she pretending to be sick. Truth is, there is absolutely nothing wrong with her a’tall, but I’ll tell you what, there’s a lot wrong with the old ewe twisted on her back all night, and she didn’t even bother to check her, just even once, throw a quick eye on her. She wouldn’t mind a china cup, that one. Where is she? Under here? Here? In the cupboard. Hot-press? Come out! Come out! Wherever you are! Feefifofum. I smell blood. Where in the name of good God is she? Leaving an old ewe all the night through on her back. Reading books somewhere, and she isn’t sick, she’s fine. There’s not a thing wrong with her. Fine. Hiding is all she’s at. Afraid of work, that bitch, well, she can tell that to the dead animal, so she can, reading books. I’ll give her books when I get my hands on her.
My mother told me to have a hot bath or put on a nice hat if I was having a bad day. When I’d leave home, she’d stand in the doorway and knead the hollow space between my shoulder blades with her knuckles as I slipped past. She’d dip her index finger into the little hole at the feet of Jesus and flick droplets in my wake. He hung on a loose nail by the door, pasty and lean with bright red drips on his hands and feet, loincloth and blue eyes to die for.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Growing up on the farm I kept bad news to myself, for going public with fortune or misfortune brings drama. I’d hide out underneath my single bed tucking the eiderdown flaps tight around me. Father’d bellow for things he needed urgently, hammer, ladder, cup of tea, plasters, jump-leads, pair of hands, mother, phone, vet. The phone for the vet was dragged in a rush out from the kitchen and my mother’d place the cream receiver into his large hand, dial for him, he’d have a palm on his forehead. Panic. Always panic.
I loved being outside with the animals, especially in the moments after they birthed; foals are the most incredible – how fast they rise and run with their mother. But I loved it best when I was completely alone with no one looking for me.
As I grew older and hair stung my armpits, spread between my legs, pimples erupting on my face, body betraying my early deftness, I borrowed more books from the library. I was clumpy and awkward and left the animals to themselves. I also stole some books from my mother’s locker. Binchy or Cookson, some Wilde with witty phrases that made me laugh and had come free with Christmas cards. Books didn’t see you. Stare at you. Notice your thick thighs that rubbed together as you moved.
Father despised all learning that came from books.
Later I read forbidden things. Just Seventeen. Judy Blume. McGahern. Edna. I longed for a Mr Gentleman to drive by, but people rarely came up our road unless they were lost or looking to buy an animal. When the house was empty, I liked to draw pictures sitting at the long kitchen table. Often birds, a fat robin landing in snow. Robins were my favourite, their blood breast and the unlikelihood of them being allowed to perch inside the house for the misfortune they’d bring on our family, all the pisreógs we hid from – putting new shoes on the table, walking under a ladder, cracking a mirror.
This power made them mysterious, cheeky outsiders. Like loner magpies.
My mother would cry out often about traumatic events or the threat of them. Father would say, It is no use in the wide earthly world crying alone in a darkened room for yourself.
All shock was shock, good or bad.
Praise for As You Were
“A mighty, turbulent firestorm of a book, with a pulsing, rhythmic narrative voice. A compelling cast of characters with pitch perfect dialogue, it is tender, nuanced, forensically controlled and thrillingly unrestrained. ”—Jury Statement from the 2021 Dalkey Emerging Writer Award
"Feeney’s brilliant debut follows an Irish woman’s struggle to accept a terminal cancer diagnosis . .. Feeney skillfully tells the stories of other patients, including Margaret Rose, recovering from a stroke, and Jane, suffering from dementia. In the closed space of the ward, these three women share their secrets . .. Never sentimental, and full of well-crafted dialogue and rich descriptions, the story is driven forward by Sinéad’s strong narration. This powerful work perfectly balances tragedy and hope. "—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“In a novel that paints a picture of modern Ireland that isn’t by Sally Rooney, women in an oncology ward come to terms with secrets, illnesses, and how to deal with their families through text and emoji-speak and existential humor. Perfect for Sad Girl Fall. ”—Nylon
"Funny, visceral, so well observed … I was blown away. "—Douglas Stuart, Booker Prize-winning author of Shuggie Bain
"As You Were is an absolute tour de force: raw, sharp and wild. Elaine Feeney writes with such love for and understanding of her characters. It’s the literary equivalent of a stiff drink beside a warm fire: a book that will rattle you before it settles you. "—Lisa McInerney
"As You Were was just (effing) amazing. Brimful of brilliant characterswhat an exciting, visceral, poetic read. I adored the lack of sentimentality. Sinéad Hynes is complex and excellently realiseda role model too, for I found her (sometime) selfishness thrillingly refreshing. As You Were gives permission to Irish women to put themselves first, and considering what we've come from, that's seismic. Elaine Feeney is such a talent. I LOVED it!"—Marian Keyes
"A truly original voice. Raw, urgent and uncompromising about the lengths we go to to conceal hurt, deception, psychic pain. .. A brilliant portrayal of the kindness of strangers, the kinship of women and the heartbreak of married love. "—Mary Costello
"The dialogue just crackles, the characters are so alive and real, there’s tragedy here, there’s comedy, there’s everything. It’s a really really fabulous book. "—Donal Ryan
"Comic, heartfelt and full of characters who walk off the page, it feels like Irish writing has been waiting a long time for a voice as unique and insistent as Elaine Feeney. A superb, unforgettable debut. "—Sinéad Gleeson
"Riveting … I was exhilarated reading this. "—Roddy Doyle
"An absolutely fabulous book. "—Kevin Barry