The Alternatives


Caoilinn Hughes’ third novel, The Alternatives, follows four sisters, all doctors of various sorts. When one of the four goes missing, the others set out across the Irish countryside to find her.

With the COVID-19 pandemic and general global instability in the background, the Flattery sisters have a lot to navigate. Haunted by their childhood and the early death of their parents, they all feel isolated and alone, each finding her way in the world as a single woman in her 30s. When the oldest sister, Olwen, goes missing, the other three come together on a quest to find her. In the process, they discover more of who they are, the values they share and how they can connect.

While all four sisters are concerned with the future of the Earth, each has her own particular sphere of expertise: cooking, philosophy, geology and politics. They also share a concern about the patterns within their family history. Each sister’s voice is clear, purposeful, realistic and hopeful. When the sisters come together, The Alternatives becomes even more engaging as their stories overlap, growing increasingly complex and intertwined.

The prose is strong, with narrative shifts that allow the reader both internal and external access to these women and their concerns. A true strength of the novel is the way Hughes balances ordinary details with those that surprise and raise the stakes, keeping the reader hooked.

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