In her American adult debut, YA author Caroline O'Donoghue weaves a story of young love (all kinds!) and twentysomething mistakes that perfectly captures both the universality of that experience and the specifics of Cork, Ireland in the recession 2010s. A perfect book for readers waiting for the next Sally Rooney or Naoise Dolan.— From Sam's Picks
July 2023 Indie Next List
“A fun, quick read about a bookstore friendship that takes two lovable characters all the way to adulthood. I very much enjoyed the small-town, Irish setting and the relatable struggle for independence and identity. A great read!”
— Becky Vitas Schamis, Theodore's Books, Oyster Bay, NY
A TIME, NPR, and LitHub Best Book of the Year • A USA TODAY BESTSELLER • A brilliantly funny novel about friends, lovers, Ireland in chaos, and a young woman desperately trying to manage all three
“O'Donoghue deepens the familiar coming-of-age premise with riveting moral complications." —People
"If you’ve ever been unsure what to do with your degree in English; if you’ve ever wondered when the rug-buying part of your life will start...if you’ve ever loved the wrong person, or the right person at the wrong time…In short, if you’ve ever been young, you will love The Rachel Incident like I did.” —Gabrielle Zevin, New York Times best-selling author of Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow
Rachel is a student working at a bookstore when she meets James, and it’s love at first sight. Effervescent and insistently heterosexual, James soon invites Rachel to be his roommate and the two begin a friendship that changes the course of both their lives forever. Together, they run riot through the streets of Cork city, trying to maintain a bohemian existence while the threat of the financial crash looms before them.
When Rachel falls in love with her married professor, Dr. Fred Byrne, James helps her devise a reading at their local bookstore, with the goal that she might seduce him afterwards. But Fred has other desires. So begins a series of secrets and compromises that intertwine the fates of James, Rachel, Fred, and Fred’s glamorous, well-connected, bourgeois wife. Aching with unrequited love, shot through with delicious, sparkling humor, The Rachel Incident is a triumph.
About the Author
CAROLINE O'DONOGHUE is the New York Times best-selling author of All Our Hidden Gifts, her YA debut fantasy, which has been published in more than twenty territories around the world. She has written for The Times and The Guardian, and is the host of an award-winning podcast, Sentimental Garbage. She was born in Ireland and lives in London. The Rachel Incident is her first adult novel to be published in the U.S.
A MOST ANTICIPATED BOOK: VOGUE, ELECTRIC LIT, SHE READS • FEATURED AS A SUMMER READING PICK BY GOOP, NEW YORK POST, NYLON, SCARY MOMMY, AND NEWSDAY
“Exuberant, bitingly satirical….Recalls the fiction of both Sally Rooney and Anne Tyler as the author interrogates the dynamics of power, from academia to publishing houses to bedrooms….O’Donoghue steers us toward reckonings large and small, her hand steady on the tiller….A gratifying, accomplished novel.”
—Hamilton Cain, The New York Times
"O’Donoghue [has] got my full attention....The Rachel Incident offers a tender reflection on those 20-something friendships that leave a permanent imprint....One of the many lovable things about this novel is O’Donoghue’s kindhearted perspective on the awkwardness of the college years....Profoundly satisfying....O’Donoghue has found a way to tell this story in scenes both heartbreaking and funny. She illuminates these Irish lives with a light all her own."
—Ron Charles, The Washington Post
"Who knew the financial crisis could be so … fun? Don’t get me wrong, The Rachel Incident gets into some heavy themes – class, sexual identity, abortion, to name a few – but this book navigates a young Irishwoman’s chaotic early 20s, during a specific economic moment, with a cozy warmth that had me laughing out loud throughout. This is one of those catch-yourself-smiling-without-realizing-it books – and one I think I’ll go back to, the next time I just want to feel like it’s all going to be OK."
—Miles Parks, NPR
"The Rachel Incident...is a coming of age story, but also ultimately a love story—revealed in starkly funny and heartbreaking turns."
"Delightful...This is a sneakily philosophical book about growing up that offers its insights with charming, effervescent ease....O’Donoghue is a unique and exciting talent, allowing her characters to puncture their solipsistic preoccupations with humor and self awareness....I galloped through this book, enchanted by its characters and its full-hearted vision of friendship. This is a book full of love, and it is extremely easy to love reading it."
—Chloe Schama, Vogue
"Books by Irish women writers are hot these days, and this novel is on fire....O'Donoghue deepens the familiar coming-of-age premise with riveting moral complications."
"A smart, funny, and completely captivating look at how the lives of two young people in Cork, Ireland become intertwined forever thanks to shared dreams, mistakes, and some very dark secrets. When Rachel and James meet working at a bookstore, neither knows that their wild, carefree youth will change the rest of their lives, but in the author's expert hands readers are treated to seeing the two fumble toward adulthood—no matter who gets in their way."
—Town & Country
“The Rachel Incident is my favorite kind of novel: charming and complex, with flawed and extremely lovable characters whom you're rooting for page after delicious page. A must-read!"
– Elin Hilderbrand, #1 best-selling author of The Five-Star Weekend
"If you’ve ever had a literary internship that didn’t really pay you; if you’ve ever contemplated writing a screenplay with a friend; if you’ve ever been unsure what to do with your degree in English; if you’ve ever wondered when the rug-buying part of your life will start; if you’ve ever avoided going home or run out of things to say to your parents; if you’ve ever built your life and your personality around a friend; if you’ve ever loved the wrong person, or the right person at the wrong time… In short, if you’ve ever been young, you will love The Rachel Incident like I did.”
—Gabrielle Zevin, New York Times best-selling author of Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow
“Caroline O’Donoghue, where have you been all my life? The Rachel Incident is a transportive joy, a superhighway to young friendship. Big-hearted, witty and expertly crafted — I want to live inside this book.”
—Sloane Crosley, New York Times bestselling author of I Was Told There’d Be Cake and Cult Classic
"Caroline O'Donoghue shines a laser beam on young adulthood, particularly the crazy intensity of those messy, beautiful friendships forged in the fires of romantic crisis. The Rachel Incident made me nostalgic for my early twenties. But even more than that, it made me wish I could go back and hug the person I was back then and tell her she'll be okay."
—Lauren Fox, New York Times best-selling author of Send For Me
"By turns hilarious and heartfelt, breezy and bittersweet, The Rachel Incident is a full-throated, big-hearted romp through early adulthood.”
—Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times best-selling author of Orphan Train
"A timeless coming of age tale of love and betrayal set in Sally Rooney’s Ireland, The Rachel Incident is for the young, messy, and politically inclined, as Rachel juggles old love, new love, and a country in chaos."
—Sophia June, NYLON
"When narrator Rachel, a college student in County Cork, becomes friends and quickly roommates with her new bookshop-coworker James, it's as if no one else exists. The in-jokes, cozy nights huddled together in their moldy, freezing cottage apartment, and epic nights out—it's the early-twentysomething friendship of dreams....Over the course of a year, as the pair dedicates themselves to moving to London and getting "real" jobs, the stand-still economy and each friend's love affair with an unavailable man (Rachel's with head-in-the-clouds Carey and James' with married, closeted professor Fred) complicate their idyll and make it impossible to save money or their optimism....O'Donoghue gives readers a quick-reading slow build that rests comfortably on strong characters, Rachel's conversational narration, and a crisp capture of the 2010s, from recession through Ireland's legalization of abortion and all the many shifts, mini to tectonic, therein.
—Booklist, starred review
“A college student gets caught in the middle of a friend’s romance in this delightful Irish novel…. This deliciously complex set of entanglements lays the groundwork for the novel… and bring to mind the gossipy 19th-century novels Dr. Byrne might teach in class. But its true joys lie in the tremendously witty characters and their relationships: The real love story of this novel is not between James and Dr. Byrne, or Rachel and her own paramour, but between Rachel and James, whose codependent glee in each other’s company will remind many readers of their own college friendships, especially those between women and queer men…. Sensational.”
—Kirkus, starred review
"Rachel’s first-person voice and wonderfully off-kilter observations make her a character you want to settle in with. By turns comic and bittersweet, this is a tender tale of platonic and first love, as well as a sharp look at such issues as homosexuality and abortion in the more repressive Ireland of pre-repeal days.... There’s more than a hint of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones here: a bright and funny voice in a novel that wears its heart on its sleeve."
—BookPage, starred review
"Two 20-something roommates become enmeshed with an older married couple in this smart and colorful outing from O’Donoghue....In addition to the interpersonal drama, O’Donoghue pulls no punches in her depiction of the abortion crisis in Ireland during the period, showing how women either traveled abroad or resorted to illegal and potentially dangerous methods to terminate pregnancies. Key to it all is O’Donoghue’s spot-on portrayal of Rachel’s youthful yearning....In O’Donoghue’s world, there’s plenty to fall in love with."