When the body of a small child is discovered on a London estate in the early 1990s, suspicions fall on the Greens, a reclusive Irish family whose ten-year-old daughter was the last person seen with the dead girl. Already regarded as the bad apples within their community, they have become pariahs, leaving them vulnerable to the attentions of tabloid journalist Tom Hargreaves who is hungry for a story that will make his name. Ambitious and contemptuous of the “peasants” who read his paper, he is convinced that the Greens are hiding a dark secret. Determined to uncover it, he persuades the newspaper to put the family up in a hotel where he sets about breaking them down to reveal it. But the stories that he uncovers from the Green’s, most notably Carmel, the beautiful, damaged mother of the ten-year-old suspect are not those he is expecting or hoping for but, instead, distressing tales of ordinary human disappointment and dysfunction.

Suspenseful and melancholic, Ordinary Human Failings is suffused with a sense of foreboding. Despite the darkness of the subject matter, Nolan’s book is beautifully written and deeply empathetic – readers will savour every sentence.

In describing the circumstances and events that have led to the Greens becoming the flawed and damaged people that they are, Nolan invites us to sympathetically consider the corrosive effects of poverty and alcohol abuse, society’s diminishment of working-class people and the consequences of intergenerational trauma that can trigger extraordinary human tragedy.

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Megan Nolan was born in 1990 in Waterford, Ireland and is currently based in London. Her essays and reviews have been published by the New York Times, the White Review, the Guardian and Frieze amongst others. Her debut novel, Acts of Desperation, was published by Jonathan Cape in 2021 and was the recipient of a Betty Trask Award, shortlisted for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, and longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize.

Photography © Aashfaria A. Anwar

‘This insightful novel holds a microscope up to one family’s secrets as they become the centre of a criminal investigation. Lyrical, compassionate and expertly crafted.’

2023 Fiction judges

David Coates

Ella Dove

Anthony Quinn

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