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Before My Actual Heart Breaks

4.36  ·  Rating details ·  137 ratings  ·  43 reviews
I’m not yours and you’re not mine. That’s what I say to his dreaming face as I watch the shadows of his dark eyelashes dance by the light of a Tilley lamp.

It’s not the first lie I’ve told myself.
When I was sixteen, I wanted to fly. I was going to take off like an angel from heaven and leave the muck and madness of Northern Ireland behind as I struck out across the west co
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published April 29th 2020 by Hutchinson
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Average rating 4.36  · 
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Apr 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Tish Delaney's debut is intrinsically Irish and a strongly character driven read set amidst the backdrop of the Northern Ireland troubles, the religious divisions, the horrors of the bombs and the bullets, and the inevitable impact it had on the lives of individuals. The hold the Catholic church had at that time and the harsh, oppressive social norms and attitudes of the period feel as they come from an era long ago, given how things have changed since. Mary grows up with a ghastly nightmare of ...more
This book is due to be released July 2020

The one quote that sticks out in my mind from this book is “I’m not yours and you’re not mine”

As the author lays the ground work for this must touching awesome story with heartbreak, tears and growing, maturing and learning, stick with it.

Mary starts off at sixteen in this book and we experience with her her good times, her life and the wonderful conversations between her Aunt Eileen.

This is Northern Ireland around 1970’s. When the bombing, the IRA, Pro
Oct 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
4-5 stars

Well, I think my actual heart did break on several occasions in this rollercoaster debut novel. This is the story of Mary Rattigan, who lives in Carncloon, Co Tyrone who has her own personal troubles against the backdrop of The Troubles, beknighting the six counties and beyond the borders of Northern Ireland. Falling pregnant at sixteen she marries handsome farmer John Johns who is not the father, her own personal white knight ....... and I’ll say no more. Mary narrates her own story fr
Eric Anderson
Mar 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
On the outside it feels baffling that two people who marry and spend their lives together can be virtual strangers to each other, yet this is the reality of many arranged relationships. Tish Delaney movingly depicts the life of one such Northern Irish woman in her debut novel “Before My Actual Heart Breaks”. Mary Rattigan once dreamed of moving far away and being with her sweetheart, but those aspirations were dashed by the reality of her circumstances. When we meet her at the beginning of this ...more
Oct 04, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
It has taken me some time since finishing this book to decide what I thought of it, but as Sadie would say ‘reviews don’t write themselves’. On the one hand, I thought Mary’s voice sounded authentic (and those of her extended family and friends). I enjoyed the dialogue, the atmosphere of rural life despite the difficult times, and to begin with I was very much engaged with her situation. On the other, I couldn’t believe 25 years of marriage and family life, including plenty of happy days surroun ...more
Mar 21, 2020 rated it liked it
This book was a bit of a curate's egg for me. The first part dealing with Mary's childhood before her forced marriage at sixteen was superb. It really captured growing up with a toxic, narcissistic mother in Northern Ireland and resonated so much with my own life down to her mother spelling out regpungant words (to her) such as T.R.A.M.P and the superior holier than thou attitude, belittling and sense of never being good enough or of getting things right. It started to fall apart for me when Mar ...more
Sandrine V
Jan 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing
If you’re a fan of Derry Girls, you will adore this debut novel. It’s set amidst the Troubles of Northern Ireland and tells the story of Mary Rattigan and her personal troubles from her teenage years to adulthood. As the title suggests, it’s a heartbreaking read but it’s definitely a contestant for one of my favourite books of the year. I could hear the Irish accent while reading this, which was so incredible. Please go and read it!
Spadge Nunn
Oct 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Oh my goodness, such an apt title. I feel like my heart broke at least 5 times when reading this beautiful book. And I’d do it all over again!

My heart broke for the families of Northern Ireland in the 80s, for the innocent child with an evil mother and pushover father, for the irreplaceable loss of loved ones, for the dreams that suddenly get flushed down the drain and for the longing of a love you so desperately need but never quite feel deserving of.

The story of Mary is one that majorly shifts
Nov 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
When bad times have passed, it's easy to forget how bad they were. Today we live in an era when countries all over the world worry about terrorism, but back in the 1970s and 1980s, sectarian violence in Northern Ireland and its spillover into the rest of the UK was the order of the day. I grew up in a town close to major army bases and when I got my first 'proper' Saturday job in a record store, I learned the routine for bomb alerts before I learned the afternoon cashing-up or locking-up procedu ...more
Oct 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Mary falls pregnant at the tender age of sixteen during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Having been brought up harshly and devoutly, an unmarried mother was something to be talked about within the chapel and the community alike. Mary’s mother, someone you’d be stupid be caught talking about in church or community, takes her own action to protect the reputation of the family, and to save her own face.

Delaney carefully takes us through Mary’s life from childhood in a way which feels tender and f
Feb 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing
When she was young, Mary 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 life didn’t turn out quite as expected.

Before My Actual Heart Breaks is an apt title, because my actual heart actually did break whilst reading this.

Multiple times.

Shockingly, I found I knew very little of The Troubles that occurred over three decades in the country that many o
Feb 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Is it too early to decide on my favourite book of 2021?

The best way I can describe it is if Derry Girls and Shuggie Bain had a baby. It has the quirkiness of Derry Girls (and the same backdrop of the Irish troubles) coupled with the grittiness of Shuggie. It was an absolute pleasure to read.

This book absolutely broke my heart. It has graphic depictions of the tumultuous political events of the era rumbling on in the background and these both directly and indirectly shape Mary’s life. We are expo
Nov 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
I recieved a copy of this book to read via Netgalley, with thanks to Netgalley, the publisher and the author. This has not impacted my review in any way.

At age sixteen, Mary is thinking what many people in 1970s Northern Ireland were thinking. I'm going to fly away from here. And she was also thinking about what many sixteen year old girls were thinking about too, boys. Falling pregnant in her staunchly Catholic family was something that deserved it's own level of hell, and when she is marrie
Mar 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I have had the absolute privilege and pleasure (and pain) of receiving an ARC of this - out May. This is a heartwrenching, beautiful novel - Tish Delaney certainly has a way of pulling you in and making you cry. Throughout Mary's narrative of her life I was by her side, both in support and wanting to shake her shoulders for her to reveal her truths. I loved the style and structure - I'd say I'd you like Sally Rooney, you'll love Tish Delaney (but who can compare the two??) This is a book you hav ...more
Anne Griffin
Jan 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Coming in Feb '21 this is a heartbreaking and often funny tale of one woman's struggle to find herself exactly where her heart wants to be. Wonderful writing in this debut novel by Northern Irish writer Tish Delaney. ...more
Mar 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I loved Before My Actual Heat Breaks. Mary is the main character and her voice is so strong I felt she was talking directly to me.

Set in Northern Ireland Mary grows up well aware of the Troubles in the Province, but her own personal troubles are nearer home in the person of her mother who belittles her at every opportunity and a father who she loves but who stands by silently.

When Mary is 16 she goes on a school trip and her life takes an unexpected and drastic turn. As a result, all her dream
Emma Nelson
Oct 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I adored Before My Actual Heart Breaks - it is, without doubt, the best novel I have read in 2020.

The story is interwoven with the troubles in Northern Ireland but it really sets the background of Mary's (main characters) struggles growing up in a large family headed up by an abusive, harsh, domineering mother.
Mary can't do anything right in her mother's eyes and reading the abuse she suffers - at times made me put down the story.

At times, you really sympathise with Mary, but at other times - y
Nov 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book tugged at my heartstrings in so many ways.
Set against the backdrop of the troubles in the North, Mary Rattigan finds herself pregnant at 16. Her mother, who is an absolute tyrant, marries her off.
Mary goes through much of her married life thinking her husband has just put up with her, sees her as weak. Her husband believes Mary has no regard for him.
I felt so much for both of them. She was so young, none of the adults around her spoke to her about what she wanted for her life.
This was
Tilly Fitzgerald
Feb 28, 2021 rated it it was amazing

This is an achingly, achingly beautiful story and an easy five stars for me - I am besotted with this book and just gutted I haven’t seen more people raving about it! If this wasn’t on your radar before...get it on there!

Mary Rattigan always wanted to grow wings and fly away from her abusive mother and miserable childhood in Northern Ireland - and from the horrors of ‘the Troubles’.

Yet when she finds herself pregnant at sixteen, her mother and the Church arranges to marry her off without her a
Mar 21, 2021 rated it really liked it
The novel follows Mary, who has always dreamed of being things and escaping from the abuse she faces at home from her mother whilst her father stays silent. However, things do not go as she plans when Mary falls pregnant at 16. Her mother marries her off to her neighbourhood farmer, John Johns. We follow her emotional journey over the years and how her marriage progresses. The novel is set in Northern Ireland during the troubles and how this impacts Mary and those around her.

This story is sad.
Ashima Jain
Mar 18, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley-arcs
"'If I could go back to being sixteen again, I’d do things differently.'
'Everyone over the age of forty feels like that, you total gom,' says my best friend Lizzie Magee."

At sixteen, Mary Rattigan wanted to fly - 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
Nov 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
My heart may have actually broken while reading this. The book is set in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and follows the life of Mary, a young girl who dreams of leaving her abusive mother and emotionally absent father for the freedom of America. Mary’s dreams are broken when she discovers she is pregnant at 16 and forced into an arranged marriage with a local farmer who has his own painful past.

Mary and John are together for 25 years and go on to have more children. Their relationship is strange
Marie (UK)
May 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This book has a dual narrative all of which can be entitled "the troubles". Set in Ireland from the dark days of sectarian fighting almost until the present, Mary Rattigan / Johns troubles are not only of the warring kind. Pregnant at 16 her life changes irrevocably, still a child she is unable to see "the good". Her world is always more the glass half empty than the glass half full but at the same time it is unbearab ...more
Feb 26, 2021 rated it really liked it
Before My Actual Heart Breaks is set against the background of the troubles in Northern Ireland in the 70's and almost up to present day. It follows the struggle of Mary Rattigan growing up in a large family with a domineering and abusive mother. At 16 she longs to escape, to fly away and leave Ireland and its problems behind. This dream is shattered when she falls pregnant and is forced into marrying John Johns a young farmer. What follows is an emotional journey travelled over many years as we ...more
Robyn Burns
Mar 23, 2021 rated it really liked it
Well, I think my actual heart did break reading (listening) to this book.
Our protagonist is Mary Rattigan, living a Catholic upbringing in Carncloon, County Tyrone during the Troubles. She is the perfect mix of likeable and frustrating. We follow her through three decades of her life and as she grows, so does our insight into her. After getting pregnant at sixteen she marries a farmer (not the dad) and enters an interesting marriage and life, stuck somewhere between contentment and a longing fo
Nov 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Before My Actual Heart Breaks is a great read and a great education into the Troubles in Northern Ireland. I did have to keep reminding myself what era I was reading about as it felt like it was set in the 50's or 60's with the attitudes towards sex and unplanned pregnancies but perhaps that's more my ignorance with religion and sex.

I was hoping to see Mary mature more into herself, for a smart girl she really made some dumb choices, but I feel like she never really did. She became a shell of h
Apr 10, 2021 rated it really liked it
I've just spent about a week with Mary going over four decades of her life. From being little Mary dreamed of growing wings and flying away. She wanted to escape her abusive and cruel Mother who loved the church more than anything else, Mary wanted a better life for herself. except, Mary never grows her wings and is held in place by the constraints of the Roman Catholic church, hypocritical priests, and the bitterness for the loss of a life she could have lived. Set to the back drop of The Troub ...more
Hannah Harvey
Apr 27, 2020 rated it liked it
This book covers a lot of years, and despite the fact that it's a little under 400 pages. For the most part, it never felt rushed. If anything, I'd say it was a little slow to start, but soon picked up.
It follows Mary as she deals with the challenges of life as a young mum and wife, against the backdrop of some turbulent times.
I enjoyed the book as a whole, and the main negative I have is that I kept wanting to root for Mary, but found it hard to connect with her.
Besides this, at times simply be
Sarah Krause
Oct 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
How is this book not everywhere?

I feel like it is so underrated. I had not even heard of it until seeing it on NetGalley.

A story of a Catholic girl Mary, growing up in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, with an abusive mother, and a pretty absent father. It covers her life as she grows and becomes a mother and wife.

I was totally engrossed in this story from the very start. It pulled me right in and I was there with Mary through every heartbreak (and there’s a lot) and every joy. She frustr
Louise Gray
Oct 08, 2020 rated it liked it
The setting and context of this story were the best aspects for me. Reading about life experiences during the Troubles in Northern Ireland and what the impact was on everyday people was fascinating. I found the protagonist too irritating to be able to engage well with her on her own path and struggles, though. Well written dialogue, great descriptions and fascinating backdrop but the characters were not appealing for me and I find that important as a reader. Definitely more good that criticism, ...more
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