Book Review: Before My Actual Heart Breaks

I’m not yours and you’re not mine.

Tish Delaney ~ Before My Heart Actually Breaks


When she was young Mary Rattigan wanted to fly. She was going to take off like an angel from heaven and leave the muck and madness of troubled Northern Ireland behind. Nothing but the Land of Happy Ever After would do for her.

But as a Catholic girl with a B.I.T.C.H. for a Mammy and a silent Daddy, things did not go as she and Lizzie Magee had planned.

Now, five children, twenty-five years, an end to the bombs and bullets, enough whiskey to sink a ship and endless wakes and sandwich teas later, Mary’s alone. She’s learned plenty of hard lessons and missed a hundred steps towards the life she’d always hoped for.

Will she finally find the courage to ask for the love she deserves? Or is it too late?


This was a book that had all the promise of a five star read…

It starts off well as we follow Mary throughout her childhood in Ireland during the troubles. Living with an abusive mother and weak father, Mary has plans to escape and she’s on the right track with good grades and ambition. This part is really interesting and beautifully captured; told through scraped knees, biscuits and dreams, we see the world through the young girl’s eyes. Delaney’s choice of words provides us with humour and heartbreak.

However, the book then loses its way a little bit and becomes the same story we’ve heard many times before. After a fleeting moment of intimacy with a man, Mary finds herself pregnant at 16. How original. Her mother forces her to marry the ‘boy next door’ to avoid a life of shame and before we know it, Mary is stuck.

It might seem odd that John would agree to marry a ‘fallen’ woman, but even before Mary is pregnant, there’s a hint of attraction, although their marriage is a strange one. Perhaps it’s the religious upbringing, but for two people who become physically intimate so often, you’d expect a few more conversations! While the troubles are referred to fairly often, they are very much in the background; I was also surprised that Mary and her father managed to form some sort of relationship, considering how he behaved throughout their childhood.

The latter chapters are still well-written, but adult Mary isn’t as engaging or interesting. The book actually gets quite repetitive, so it’s a slow slog, which is a shame as the first half really is a stunning piece of prose.

A strong debut that is beautifully crafted, but let down by its second half.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I was provided with a copy by Penguin Books and Random Things Tours. All opinions my own.

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