Oh my God, What a Complete Aisling by Emer McLysaght & Sarah Breen

published 2017 in Ireland, 2018 in the UK

Oh my God What a Complete Aisling 1

My own holiday wardrobe consists of a tankini (Dunnes, TG), three maxi dresses (one Oasis, two Penneys), a pair of white linen trousers – so versatile, as long as you have an iron (Sasha, RIP), two pairs of khaki shorts (Penneys), three T-shirts (Dorothy Perkins), my trusty county jersey, a going Out Out dress (River Island – so dear), two pairs of flip-flops (one bejewelled – Barratt’s, one plain – Penneys)… and my Skechers, if I have anything to do with it. I think it’s what’s called a capsule wardrobe? Like, I can mix and match most of the individual items to create different outfits. I got the idea from an interview with Alexa Chung I read in U magazine. She’s very stylish – the girls in work are obsessed.

Oh my God What a Complete Aisling

commentary: The title of this book, while obviously eye-catching and funny, doesn’t really do it justice – it sounds like a stunt, a gimmick, a one-trick pony. And actually Aisling is much better than that: it is endlessly entertaining and laugh-out loud funny, but this is also a proper novel. It is charming and nicely-plotted and structured, and the voice of Aisling is wonderfully well done and completely consistent.

At first I thought it might be patronizing or belittling, but I was enjoying it so much I stopped worrying about that. Aisling’s creators say that we all know an Aisling, and we all have a bit of Aisling in us. This is part of their description:
She's your stereotypical friend who carries her court shoes to work in a bag while pounding the pavement with her MBTs on the walk in from Rathmines. Aisling loves a Colours Night in the Portobello and a cheeky Coors Light in Mc Gowans of Phibsboro. She keeps all of her Laser receipts and checks them off against her bank statement. She has a loyalty card from both Tesco and Dunnes but not Marks and Spencer, have you seen the prices in there? Aisling loves a good bit of drying and thinks tumble driers are a sinful waste…
She leaves notes for the others in the work communal kitchen and in her apartment, she hates to pay for parking, and she is a great keeper of rules. The excellent feature of the book is that Aisling’s life is full of very Irish details – and yet there is a complete universality about her. We do all know an Aisling. And just from the capsule wardrobe above, you could tell where Penneys lies in the general scheme of things, even if you’d never heard of the shop before. Cheaper than Zara, that’s for sure, as when her friend is
…wearing something from the ‘state of that’ rack in Zara. I love the idea of Zara, but it can be very dear, and a lot of it has me gasping ‘the state of that’ before I can stop myself.
So – all Aisling’s friends are getting married, and she wonders if it’s about time for her longterm boyfriend John to pop the question. Things don’t pan out as she’d hoped, and she makes a few changes in her life, including moving in with the friends who wear Zara and Cos, and eat avocados, and might be vegan.

The culture clash is hilarious and delightful. Aisling still sees a lot of her very real ‘home’ family, and there are various life stages to go through – the book is not just comedy. There is a satisfying ending, but also room for sequels, and there is now talk of an Aisling film.
These are some of my favourite lines:
‘Where I’m from, a heifer, especially if it’s in calf, is a solid and very common Confirmation-money investment. I made a packet on it in the end. But it always falls on deaf ears, and they just end up creasing themselves laughing.
A neighbour has brought round a plate of
...little triangular ham sandwiches. She puts Ballymaloe relish on them, in case anyone forgets she’s Protestant.
Aisling is not sure she wants to start dating:
I’m not sure I’m ready for all the leg-shaving and pretending I care about how many sisters he has and all that.
On waking up late in a hotel:
‘John,’ I whisper, ‘my voice shaking. ‘I think we’re going to miss the hotel breakfast.’ As quick as Clark Kent nipping into a phonebox, twirling and suddenly transforming into Superman, John’s out of the bed, stumbling in the half-darkness… ‘It’s included in the price?’ he asks, his voice husky. ‘The breakfast?’
And then there’s the important distinction between going Out, and going Out Out – see above, the dress is for Out Out.

Non-Irish readers might not get every detail of the jokes, but we get the point, and we can substitute our own local terms, we know why it is funny. There is a lot in the book about weddings and wedding planning – some of it is deeply familiar, some details are completely strange: it’s like Edith Wharton for the modern age.

And it is hilariously, laugh-out-loud, funny, and there isn’t a mean moment in it, and I hope there will be many more Aisling books.

****ADDED LATER:  As someone points out in the comments below, I failed to give credit for the illustration, which comes from the The Vivienne Files

I found it elsewhere, but have now seen the blog, which describes itself as

'a unique personal style blog with carefully-selected capsule wardrobes based on color palettes drawn from works of art, nature, and more. It helps women buy less clothing, and to love what they buy.'

And that's exactly what it is - it is a lovely blog, well worth a visit, and I apologize for my earlier omission.


  1. This does sound funny, Moira. We all do know an Aisling. And what I like about it is that it doesn't seem to resort to meanness. I like it when author keeps that balance. The writing style looks engaging, too, which is great. Worth exploring!

    1. Yes, that's what I liked so much about it, Margot - the good-heartedness, and that the jokiness is about everyone, not just Aisling.

  2. Replies
    1. Oh yes - do read when you get the chance, I think you will love. We all have Aisling in us...

  3. Delighted to see you writing about this book - my sister in Ireland sent it over to me a few months ago and I loved it. So sweet and funny! You have me nervous now thinking about a film, they might make a pure hames of that. I'll keep my fingers crossed! I recommend it to anyone :D

    1. A film is always a worry from that point of view, I know. But I read that there will be a followup book soon, which I will very much look forward to it. I hope you enjoy it - but I think anyone would, I have no hesitation about recommending it. I gave it as a present to someone yesterday.

  4. That paragraph you quote is so ultra British I'd never be able to understand this book without a 50 page glossary tacked on at the end. But that bit about dashing to the inclusive breakfast does remind me of my many trips with Joe and our insane rush every morning in the various hotels we stay in to get downstairs before they take away the pastries, juice, eggs and bacon. Often we left with only the cooling coffee in thermoses left unattended, bruised bananas and mini cups of yogurt that no one over touches in the mini fridge. This is a fun post on an obviously fun book, but one I'll probably overlook due to so many British culture references that would go over my head leaving feeling like a lost tourist without his Berlitz handbook.

    1. There you are - even you have a touch of Aisling in you! I actually keep imagining it with footnotes, which could be very funny, and might be essential for some readers. But as you say, there would need to be a LOT of them.

  5. I think you forgot to give Janice at The Vivienne Files credit for the illustration here.

    1. Thank you for pointing this out, you are completely right. I found the picture elsewhere, but that is no excuse for not giving credit, and I have added a note to the blogpost.


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