BOOK REVIEW: ‘Lola’s Secret’: Feisty Lola Quinlan Gives Great Advice — and Is Wise Enough to Listen and Learn, Too

Monica McInerney

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

If there’s one thing Lola Quinlan, the irrepressible protagonist of Monica McInerney’s novel “Lola’s Secret” (Ballantine Books Trade Paperback, 352 pages, $15.00) can’t stand it’s the “soul-sapping” people she’s encountered in her long life.

The 84-year-old  matriarch of South Australia’s Clare Valley has been faced with what McInerney describes so vividly on Page 55: “The soul-sappers” who bully, try to put her down with low-level insults and general negativity….The sneerers. The Pessimists. People throughout her life who’d told her again and again in many different ways, ‘You can’t do that,’ ‘That’s not how things are done,’ ‘Who do you think you are?'”

If you’ve ever resisted authority to the extent of kicking against the pricks — the  oxen prods referred to in the New Testament’s Acts 9.5 (KJV): “And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”


The expression  “to kick against the pricks”  refers generally to being stubborn or resistant to authority to the point of self-harm — something with which Lola can identify.  Mrs. Kernaghan, her latest foe, is a new volunteer at the thrift shop where Lola is a mainstay.  Mrs. Kernaghan is  a woman who believes she’s a cut or two above the other volunteers because she once owned an expensive boutique. Lola, a hippie at heart, not only dodges the figurative prick or goad of Mrs. Kernaghan but also manages to turn the device on Mrs. Kernaghan.


But Lola would be the first to admit that she’s far from perfect, as we learn in a powerful scene where she and her daughter-in-law, Geraldine, finally confront the relationship issues accumulated over 40 years, including Lola’s relationship with her son, Jim, and her granddaughters, nicknamed the Alphabet Sisters from their names: Anna, Bett and Carrie. As we encounter Lola and the Quinlan clan at the beginning of the novel, we learn that Anna is dead and Bett and Carrie are feuding. Lola once had to deal with a feud involving all three and now it’s deja vu all over again.
Visualize  the Napa Valley of northern California —  and maybe the adjacent areas of Sonoma and Mendocino counties — when you read about the Clare Valley. It’s a tourist destination and wine country — well known for one of my favorite wines, Riesling —  and Lola lives in the Valley View Motel, moving from room to room, living light on the land, as it were. Jim and Geraldine  have owned the motel for years, relying on Lola’s help,  but there are changes on the horizon — as Lola learns to her dismay.
It’s December in Clare, early summer in the Southern Hemisphere and hardly the Irish-born Lola’s idea of the holiday season. Temperatures are in the high 90s, even reaching 100 degrees on the Fahrenheit scale which Australia abandoned decades ago.
Thanks to young Luke, a computer whiz, Lola is very computer savvy. Telling Jim and Geraldine to spend the holidays away from the Clare Valley, she cooks up a scheme to fill the vacant rooms in the motel:  Plotting in secret and online, Lola thinks it would be fun to invite a select group of strangers to stay at the motel for Christmas.  She makes her prospective guests an offer they can’t refuse. Lola wants to find out if these guests become friends, ignite sparks, fall in love? As she counts down the days until their arrival, Lola’s own family dramas threaten to upend her best-laid plans. Yet amid moments of humor, heartache, and unexpected twists of fate, Lola finds that she’s the one who’s in for the biggest surprise of all.
No, I won’t give away Lola’s secret, but if you want a book crammed to the rafters with characters you can identify with, “Lola’s Secret” is for you. I fell in love with McInerney’s writing — especially her beautifully drawn characters — when I read and reviewed her “At Home with the Templetons” last year (link to my review:  As I said in my review of “At Home with the Templetons” — which, like “Lola’s Secret,” includes a Random House reader’s guide — “Lola’s Secret” would be a great selection for a book group.
About the Author
Monica McInerney grew up in a family of seven children in the Clare Valley of South Australia, where her father was the railway stationmaster. She is the author of the internationally bestselling novels “The Alphabet Sisters”(a prequel to “Lola’s Secret),  “Family Baggage”, “The Faraday Girls”, “Upside Down Inside Out”, “Greetings from Somewhere Else”, and “At Home with the Templetons.” She now lives in Dublin with her husband. Her website:

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