We're delighted to present an exclusive extract from The Liberation of Brigid Dunne, the new novel from best-selling author Patricia Scanlan, now in bookshops. 

When four feisty women from the same family, get together at a family reunion, anything can happen… Marie-Claire, betrayed by her partner, Marc plans her revenge to teach him a lesson he will never forget. She travels from Toronto, home to Ireland, to the house of the Four Winds, for her great aunt, Reverend Mother Brigid's eightieth birthday celebrations. It will be a long-awaited reunion for three generations of family, bringing together her mother, Keelin and grandmother, Imelda - who have never quite got along.

And then all hell breaks loose...

Christmas Eve Mid-Eighties

Although the heat of the day has died down, she is hot and bothered. She thinks of Christmases at home when her fingers were numb with cold, and wishes for a moment that she could transport herself to Ireland, to Ardcloch, and feel the icy chill of a moonlit night in December. But she's half a world from home and she needs to focus on the task at hand.

The children are beside themselves, their excited chatter and awestruck expressions bringing smiles to the adults’ faces. She casts a peek at the tall, lean man with the lopsided smile who is surrounded by them. How they love it when he is here. How she loves it when he is here. She has to be careful. Not by so much as a glance can she betray herself.

She is well aware that Mother has been watching her like a hawk since her arrival this morning.

Reverend Mother’s presence brings a tension, an edge to the gathering. Everyone is on their best behaviour. Even laid-back Margaret is looking unnaturally spruce, her unruly red locks that usually escape in every direction imprisoned in hairpins.

Mother claps her hands for silence. 'We will sing "Silent Night",’ she instructs as the room quietens down.

The old familiar carol brings a loneliness that catches her unawares. It is worse than loneliness. At home they have a name for it: uaigneas. That aching aloneness and loneliness that words cannot describe. She is apprehensive. What will become of her? With superhuman force of will she gathers herself and, by some grace, manages to join in the next verse.

Later, when all the guests are feasting on the eagerly awaited Christmas Eve supper, the children trying but failing to be polite as they cram food into their mouths, he comes to stand beside her at the buffet.

‘Bon nuit,’ he says casually, trying to ignore Mother’s gimlet eye.

She keeps her head down, placing a slice of mango on her plate although her throat is so constricted she can hardly eat. ‘Oíche maith,’ she says. She has been teaching him Irish. At that moment one of the children trips over and a plate smashes. There are squawks of dismay and flurries of activity as the broken pieces are swept off the floor, and while Mother’s and everyone else’s attention is elsewhere, she whispers urgently, ‘I’m pregnant.’

‘Mon Dieu!’ he utters, his face turning ashen.

For one awful moment she thinks he is going to abandon her and leave her to endure the future alone, and then she hears him say, ‘I am with you. We will face this together,’ before someone comes to claim his attention.

Relief washes over her. Just as Joseph had stayed with Mary and helped her bring her child into the world on this Holy Night over two thousand years ago, her St Joseph will be with her on this new, unplanned journey that lies ahead. Joy fills her. There will be uproar when the news breaks. She knows a hard road lies ahead, but every fibre of her body rejoices at the new life she is carrying.

The Liberation of Brigid Dunne (Simon & Schuster) is in bookshops now.