STIR-FRY follows seventeen-year-old Maria Murphy through her first term as a university student in Dublin. Maria is eager to leave behind her small town background and Catholic upbringing, acquire cosmopolitan sophistication, make new friends, and, possibly, lose her virginity. At first, her quest for independence appears to be proceeding well: She has befriended two classmates, has caught the attention of a handsome young man, and has moved into a flat with two other women. Nevertheless, complications quickly arise. While her romance flounders, her university chums pursue their own amorous interests, sometimes abandoning her. To complicate matters further, her flatmates turn out to be lesbian lovers.
STIR-FRY continues to explore Maria’s inner conflict as she begins to question her own sexuality. Are her genuine affection for her flatmates and her lack of heterosexual experience indications that she is homosexual? Or is her reluctance to enter into a serious relationship with a man merely a fear that an unwanted pregnancy or early marriage will dash her career plans?
The novel’s treatment of these issues is sensitive and informative. Donoghue provides a clear sense of the problems facing young women in a country where reliable methods of birth control are difficult to obtain and abortion is illegal. Her positive portrayal of lesbianism avoids idealization or political correctness. Donoghue’s debut as a fiction writer is a highly successful one. Her characters are well drawn, her dialogue brisk and witty, her settings tangible. Although the jacket cover describes STIR-FRY as a “lesbian novel,” it is a book that should appeal to a variety of readers, male and female, gay and straight.