TBR Thursday 79… and End of Month Round-Up

People’s Choice 10 – The Result…

 

Well! The People’s Choice Begorrathon Special was exciting! One book raced into a clear read from the beginning and held off all challengers as it stormed towards the finishing line. So I hereby declare…

This Week’s Winner…

 

instructions for a heatwave

The Blurb – It’s July 1976. In London, it hasn’t rained for months, gardens are filled with aphids, water comes from a standpipe, and Robert Riordan tells his wife Gretta that he’s going round the corner to buy a newspaper. He doesn’t come back. The search for Robert brings Gretta’s children — two estranged sisters and a brother on the brink of divorce — back home, each with different ideas as to where their father might have gone. None of them suspects that their mother might have an explanation that even now she cannot share. Maggie O’Farrell’s sixth book is the work of an outstanding novelist at the height of her powers.

Thanks to Naomi at Consumed by Ink for the review that brought this book to my attention.

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And thanks to all who voted! It wouldn’t be the People’s Choice without you!

The book will be added to my TBR – now all I have to do is find time to read it!

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TBR Quarterly Report…

 

At the New Year I added up the full extent of the horror of the TBR, including the bits I usually hide. So time for another count to see how I’m doing…

TBR March 2016

Woohoo! The mathematically astute amongst you will note that although the official TBR has gone up, the overall total has gone down! This is due to books moving off the wishlist onto the TBR – see? I’m the Queen of Willpower and Spreadsheets – I’m so proud of myself. If I continue at this rate, the TBR will be clear by… 2038!

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Reading Ireland Month – #begorrathon16…

 

I have thoroughly enjoyed participating in the Begorrathon throughout March, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it too. I’d like to thank Cathy at 746 Books for creating this event and for all the hard work she’s done to make the bookish side of it a huge success. Not only has she inspired people all over the blogosphere to participate, but she’s pulled all the posts together to make them easy to access – here’s the link. And she has been the major contributor herself, with a series of brilliant posts that have introduced me to loads of new authors and taught me a lot about Irish literature.

Well done, Cathy – take a bow!!

 

I also must thank Cathy for her great giveaway, WHICH I WON!! Look what I WON!!!

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the visitorThe Visitor is the haunting tale of Anastasia King, who, at the age of twenty-two, returns to her grandmother’s house in Dublin – the very house where she grew up – after six long years away. She has been in Paris, comforting her disgraced and dying mother, who ran away from a disastrous marriage to Anastasia’s late father, her grandmother’s only son. It is a story of Dublin and the unkind, ungenerous, emotionally unreachable side of the Irish temperament. Recently found in a university archive, The Visitor was written in the mid-1940s but was never published. This miraculous literary discovery deepens the oeuvre of Maeve Brennan and confirms her status as one of the best Irish writers of stories since Joyce.

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the long gaze backThe Long Gaze Back, edited by Sinéad Gleeson, is an exhilarating anthology of short stories by some of the most gifted women writers this island has ever produced. Taken together, the collected works of these writers reveal an enrapturing, unnerving, and piercingly beautiful mosaic of a lively literary landscape. The Long Gaze Back features 22 new stories by some of the most talented Irish women writers working today. The anthology presents an inclusive and celebratory portrait of the high calibre of contemporary literature in Ireland.

These stories run the gamut from heartbreaking to humorous, but each leaves a lasting impression. They chart the passions, obligations, trials and tribulations of a variety of vividly-drawn characters with unflinching honesty and relentless compassion. These are stories to savour.

Aren’t I lucky? 😀

 

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The Around the World in 80 Books Challenge – #AW80Books

Hosted by Sarah and Lucy at the wonderful Hard Book Habit…

Well, having spent the entire month in Ireland, unsurprisingly that’s the only destination I’m adding this month, and of all the books I’ve read the one I’m going to choose for this challenge is…

the heather blazing

Click to see the review

So here’s the summary to date…

780px-Around_the_World_in_Eighty_Days_map

The Main Journey

  1. London  – Martin Chuzzlewit
  2. Orient Express
  3. FranceThe Sisters of Versailles
  4. Alps
  5. Venice
  6. Brindisi
  7. Mediterranean Sea
  8. Suez
  9. Egypt
  10. Red Sea/Arabian Sea
  11. Bombay
  12. Calcutta
  13. Kholby
  14. Elephant Travel
  15. Allahabad
  16. Indian Ocean/ South China Sea
  17. Hong Kong
  18. Shanghai
  19. Yokohama
  20. Pacific
  21. San Francisco
  22. Sioux lands
  23. Omaha
  24. New York – I Am No One
  25. Atlantic Ocean
  26. Queenstown (Cobh) Ireland
  27. London – The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

 

I’ve got books planned for some of the gaps, but am still open to suggestions for any of the places highlighted in red. Any genre…

The Detours

That leaves 53 spots for me to randomly tour the world, so here’s where I’ve been so far…

  1. The Hebrides – Coffin Road
  2. Florida – Their Eyes Were Watching God
  3. Iceland – Snowblind
  4. Himalayas – Black Narcissus
  5. Ireland – The Heather Blazing

 

9 down, 71 to go!

 

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Phew! It’s been a fun month…thanks for sharing it with me!

Film of the Book: Brooklyn

Directed by John Crowley (2015)

 

brooklyn 1

From the book review:

This book, set in the 1950s, takes us from small town Ireland to Brooklyn in the company of Eilis Lacey, a young girl forced into economic migration through lack of employment and the expectations of her family. Though told in the third person, we see through Eilis’ eyes as we get to know about her life in Ireland with the mother and sister she loves, with friends and roots in a community she has known all her life; then we follow her as she is transplanted to Brooklyn, where she has the support of the Irish community, still strongly under the sway of the Roman Catholic church, but where she is so far away from her family, friendless and emotionally alone.

You can read the full book review by clicking here.

 

Film of the Book

 

 

I’m going to start by saying I think this is a wonderful film that gets Tóibín’s quiet emotionalism and gentle humour perfectly. The acting is brilliant all round and Saoirse Ronan’s central performance as Eilis Lacey thoroughly deserves all the awards nominations it has received. It’s beautifully filmed. Although I understand most of the Brooklyn scenes were actually shot in Canada, they nonetheless feel entirely authentic, but the Ireland scenes are fabulous, showing to full effect the gorgeous scenery and lush greenness of the Emerald Isle. It’s a special treat that some of the scenes are shot in Toibin’s own birthplace of Enniscorthy, the place where so many of his novels are set.

However, this slot is all about comparison and, although the film sticks very closely to the plot of the novel, for me there were some significant differences in emphasis that somewhat changed what I thought of as the central themes.

(There may be some fairly major spoilers ahead – I shall try to be oblique, but if you are proposing to read the book or watch the film in the near future, I suggest you may not want to read the rest of this post.)

Fiona Glascott, Jane Brennan and Saoirse Ronan as Rose, Mary and Eilis Lacey
Fiona Glascott, Jane Brennan and Saoirse Ronan as Rose, Mary and Eilis Lacey

There are four things in particular that I feel change the interpretation – the speed with which the film gets her to Brooklyn, Eilis’ family, the love affairs and, most of all, Eilis’ personality.

In the book, much more time is spent in Ireland before Eilis boards the ship for America, during which we see her as having very little say in her own future. It is the 1950s, opportunities in Ireland are scarce and many of the young people are forced away from the country to look for employment. Eilis herself, however, doesn’t want to go and isn’t consulted when her sister and mother decide what is best for her. It gives a real and believable picture of a society where young people were still expected to conform to decisions made for them by parents and community, before the rebelliousness and individualism of the sixties had begun. The film, constrained no doubt by time, hints too quickly at this, thus missing some of the deep sorrow of forced migration. It feels as if Eilis is going to America to look for opportunity, rather than going from Ireland because of lack of opportunity – a subtle difference but, I felt, an important one.

The wonderful Julie Walters is in fine form as Eilis' landlady in Brooklyn, Mrs Kehoe.
The wonderful Julie Walters is on fine form as Eilis’ landlady in Brooklyn, Mrs Kehoe.

In the film, Eilis’ family consists of herself, her mother and her sister. In the book, she has brothers, who have also been forced from home and are now living and making a life for themselves in Liverpool, as so many Irish people did. They don’t appear much in the book, but I felt they were important for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they provide a much wider picture of the Irish diaspora. Secondly, they are much closer to home and within relatively easy visiting distance. This means Eilis’ mother is not so solitary as the film makes her seem when tragedy strikes. She has family around her – it is, in fact, Eilis, so far away, who is completely isolated and alone. And when Eilis makes her final decision, in the film it seems so harsh because her mother is so alone, but in the book, her mother seems more selfish, and we see how it is daughters rather than sons who are expected to make sacrifices for their parents. (Also, the letter to Eilis from one of her brothers after the tragedy is the single most moving part of the book for me, and obviously it disappeared from the film along with him.)

begorrathon 2016

In the film, the love affairs are central – in the book, I felt they were less so. The focus of the book is on homesickness and the gradual creation of a new life. Obviously, Tony, the American love interest, is part of that, but Eilis is not bowled over by him the way she is in the film. Again the differences are subtle, but Eilis almost clung to Tony because of her loneliness and one was never quite sure of the depth of her feeling towards him. The same could be said about Jim – his plot purpose in the book was not to rend her heart between two lovers, but to provide a way for her to stay in Ireland.

Emory Cohen as Eilis' American love interest, Tony Fiorello
Emory Cohen as Eilis’ American love interest, Tony Fiorello

That may make Eilis sound cool and pragmatic, which would be about right. In the film she is a passionate, confident young woman. In the book, she is a passive heroine, a young girl, trying to please everyone, and constantly swayed by people older or with stronger personalities than her own. In fact, the book is exactly about her growing up, maturing to the point where she finally begins to make her own decisions – and, in both book and film, even her final decision is forced on her rather than being made of her own volition. In the book, that made sense because of the passive nature of her character – what else could she possibly have done? The book Eilis would never have considered withstanding a scandal – the film Eilis, it seems to me, could have found other options had she wanted. In the film, this is a girl torn between two lovers, but in the book, she’s torn between the circumscribed but safe certainties of life in her old country and the risks and opportunities in her new world. In the film, we know that love conquers all. In the book, as Eilis made her last voyage, this reader wasn’t so sure…

The differences are subtle, of tone rather than of story and, as always, come down to a matter of personal interpretation. None of the above should be seen as criticism, however. It is merely a comparison. I repeat – a brilliant film that gets my highest recommendation!

banner-brooklyn-Brooklyn_Film_844x476.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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But for its added depth and subtlety

The Winner in the Book v Film Battle is…

 

brooklyn cover

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THE BOOK!

 

 

GAN Quest: Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Moments…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

let the great world spinOne August morning in 1974, a man was spotted standing on top of one of the newly-built Twin Towers. A crowd quickly gathered, wondering if he was going to jump. Some prayed for his safety and begged him to come down, others egged him on to jump, in that ugly way crowds have. But in a moment of unforgettable magic, Philippe Petit stepped out onto an inch-thick wire, 1350 feet above the ground, and walked between the towers. For 45 minutes he held the city enthralled as he walked back and forth, sitting, even lying on the wire.

When something as momentous as 9/11 happens, how do you deal with it in fiction? To tell the story of the events themselves can feel maudlin, voyeuristic – a kind of cashing-in on tragedy. Colum McCann’s book only obliquely refers to that day, but the iconic status of the Twin Towers, their presence in the book, means it’s never far from the reader’s mind. And it’s no coincidence that the one picture McCann has chosen to illustrate the book, with the benefit of hindsight becomes terrifyingly prescient.

philippe petit plane

Instead, McCann chooses a different unique moment in the history of the Twin Towers, using it as a starting point to tell the stories of some of the people whose lives intersected while Petit walked. It’s not a celebration of New York, exactly – it’s too clear-sighted about the many problems that existed at a point when the city was drowning in drugs and crime, and the country was reeling from Vietnam. But it is a deeply affectionate picture, a warts and all portrait of its people struggling to achieve that point of balance, to make their own walk, to recognise the occasional moment of magic in their own lives.

One of those out-of-the-ordinary days that made sense of the slew of ordinary days. New York had a way of doing that. Every now and then the city shook its soul out. It assailed you with an image, or a day, or a crime, or a terror, or a beauty so difficult to wrap your mind around that you had to shake your head in disbelief.

In the end I loved the book, but it took a while for me to get there. Rather appropriately, it was almost exactly at the mid-point that I suddenly became invested in the lives McCann describes. I suspect this is one of those books that will actually work better on a re-read, because knowing how the stories play out will add the emotional content to the early chapters which I felt was a little lacking on a first read.

philippe petit sitting

Although I grew to love it, I can’t in truth say the book is unflawed. Let me get my usual foul language rant out of the way first. Some of the chapters are little more than long streams of foul-mouthed, unimaginative swearing, either in dialogue or when he’s writing some characters’ narratives in first person. An author should do more than pick up speech traits – mimicry is not art. Being brutal about it, one can train a parrot to repeat speech. But in fiction, an author should be able to achieve a sense of authenticity without simply parroting the poor language skills of the people on whom he’s basing his characters.

It’s a pity because, when he ceases the mimicry and writes in his own creative voice, he writes quite beautifully. The sections where he describes Petit’s preparation and walk create such brilliant atmosphere that I felt all the terror and exhilaration as if I were there on top of the Tower with him. His characterisation is superb – these people gradually became real to me so that I cared what happened to them. And he avoids any emotional trickery or contrived coincidence, so that their stories feel as real as their personalities.

Within seconds he was pureness moving, and he could do anything he liked. He was inside and outside his body at the same time, indulging in what it meant to belong to the air, no future, no past, and this gave him the offhand vaunt to his walk. He was carrying his life from one side to the other. On the lookout for the moment when he wasn’t even aware of his breath.

The core reason for it all was beauty. Walking was a divine delight. Everything was rewritten when he was up in the air. New things were possible with the human form. It went beyond equilibrium.

He felt for a moment uncreated. Another kind of awake.

philippe-petit-1974

The other major flaw is that some of the sections don’t add anything and, in fact, serve only to break the flow and interrupt the development of an emotional bond between reader and characters. Some of the threads carry through the book, recurring and twining around each other, like an intricate dance. But a few of them are entirely separate – for example, the section about the boy who photographs graffiti on the underground, or the hackers who – well, I can’t really tell you what the hackers do, because it was so full of unnecessary techie jargon that almost the only words I understood were the incessant swear words, and I tired of them so thoroughly I skipped the bulk of that chapter in the end. I guess McCann was trying to cover everything he could think of that was relevant to New York or the time, but I felt the book would have been tighter and more effective if it had stayed more focused.

begorrathon 2016

Despite all this, the major stories have a depth and fundamental truth to them that in the end lifts the book to within touching distance of greatness. Corr, the religious brother working amongst New York’s prostitutes and drug dealers, is caught between his vow of celibacy and his love for a woman. Tillie tells her own story of her life as a prostitute and her shame as she sees her beloved daughter Jazzlyn follow her onto the streets. Claire is mourning the son she lost in Vietnam and trying to find a kind of solace in the company of other bereaved mothers. Gloria, whose life would have broken many women, finding a way to survive by holding out a generous hand to those around her. Solomon, the judge who spends his days brokering deals and plea bargains, suddenly tasked to find an appropriate punishment for this man who has committed trespass to walk between the Towers, and in doing so has caused a whole city to raise its eyes. As they cross each other’s paths, McCann shows how single moments can change entire lives, and ripple out to touch the lives of others.

He has shaved. I want to tell him off for using my razor. His skin looks shiny and raw.

A week later – after the accident – I will come home and tap out his hairs at the side of my sink, arrange them in patterns, obsessively, over and over. I will count them out to reconstitute them. I will gather them against the side of the sink and try to create his portrait there.

McCann paints New York as a city that lived for the moment, instantly forgetting its own history – a place without the memorials and statues that fill other great capitals of the world. And he leaves the reader to realise how that all changed when the Twin Towers fell – their absence a memorial that will exist as long as anyone remembers seeing them soar above the city skyline, and will have a half-life in photos, newsreels, art and literature for long after that. But as his characters walk their own wires and the great world spins, ultimately he reminds us that some moments bring magic and wonder rather than tragedy, and hope exists even at the darkest times.

The world spins. We stumble on. It is enough.

Colum McCann
Colum McCann

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Great American Novel Quest

So…how does it fare in The Great American Novel Quest? To win that title it needs to achieve all five of the criteria in my original post…

Must be written by an American author or an author who has lived long enough in the US to assimilate the culture.

us flagColum McCann is Irish by birth and nationality (so this review is also part of Reading Ireland Month) but has lived in the US for thirty years. I reckon he’s assimilated pretty well so… achieved.

The theme must shed light on a specific and important aspect of American culture and society of the time of its writing.

us flagYes, it’s a great picture of New York in the ’70s, when the city was at its peak of crime and social decay, and also references the changes brought by 9/11 to the city’s psyche. Achieved.

It must be innovative and original in theme.

us flagYes, using Petit’s walk and the ’70s to obliquely discuss 9/11 is an innovative and successful approach. So – achieved.

Must be superbly written.

us flagDespite his too frequent lapses into speech mimicry and foul language, and his occasional lack of focus, the majority of the book is indeed superbly written. So in the spirit of generosity inherent in the book, I’m going to say… achieved.

Must capture the entire ‘American experience’.

white_flagSadly, while the book undoubtedly captures parts of the New York experience brilliantly, I don’t feel it is wide enough in scope to meet this criterion. So… not achieved.

* * * * * * *

So not The Great American Novel but, with 4½ stars and 4 GAN flags, I hereby declare this…

A Great American Novel.

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TBR Thursday 78 – The People’s Choice Begorrathon Special…

The People’s Choice 10… #begorrathon16

 

The TBR now stands at a terrifying 166! Between mammoth books, exciting blog posts all round the blogosphere, and my sudden enthusiasm for TV & movie-watching I’m getting nowhere fast with reading, and yet adding books to the TBR seems to be too easy, not helped by Amazon’s Kindle spring sale…

And, talking of exciting blog posts, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying this year’s Reading Ireland Month. The participating bloggers have been inspiring me all month over books and authors I’ve never tried before, but who sound unmissable. So… time for you to help me decide which of the ones that appealed most should be added to the TBR. I’d like to add them all, but I’m trying to be realistic… *waits for the laughter to die down*

So which one will you vote for? Which of these tantalising books deserves a place? The winner will be announced next Thursday…

With my usual grateful thanks to all the reviewers who’ve intrigued and inspired me over the last few weeks, here are:

The Contenders…

 

the sea the seaThe BlurbWhen Charles Arrowby retires from his glittering career in the London theatre, he buys a remote house on the rocks by the sea. He hopes to escape from his tumultuous love affairs but unexpectedly bumps into his childhood sweetheart and sets his heart on destroying her marriage. His equilibrium is further disturbed when his friends all decide to come and keep him company and Charles finds his seaside idyll severely threatened by his past.

madamebibilophile says: “The Sea, The Sea is a novel that tackles major themes: the nature of love, the meanings we attach to our lives, how we decide what is real when we can only view from our own perspective, how we recognise what really matters. Arrowby’s narcissism is contemptible, but the skill of Murdoch’s writing shows him as an everyman (despite his belief in his own extraordinariness) and places us in a position where to judge him harshly is to judge ourselves.

See the full review at Madame Bibi Lophile Recommends

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instructions for a heatwaveThe Blurb – It’s July 1976. In London, it hasn’t rained for months, gardens are filled with aphids, water comes from a standpipe, and Robert Riordan tells his wife Gretta that he’s going round the corner to buy a newspaper. He doesn’t come back. The search for Robert brings Gretta’s children — two estranged sisters and a brother on the brink of divorce — back home, each with different ideas as to where their father might have gone. None of them suspects that their mother might have an explanation that even now she cannot share. Maggie O’Farrell’s sixth book is the work of an outstanding novelist at the height of her powers.

Naomi says: As with all the best books (in my opinion), this book is all about the characters and their interactions; what they say to each other and what they keep to themselves. Yes, there is a plot, but it would be flimsy without the interesting characters. As long as I could read about their lives, I was happy – it almost didn’t even matter to me what was going on.”

See the full review at Consumed by Ink

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the lostThe Blurb – Not everyone who’s missing is lost When two teenage girls go missing along the Irish border, forensic psychologist Paula Maguire has to return to the hometown she left years before. Swirling with rumour and secrets, the town is gripped by fear of a serial killer. But the truth could be even darker. Not everyone who’s lost wants to be found Surrounded by people and places she tried to forget, Paula digs into the cases as the truth twists further away. What’s the link with two other disappearances from 1985? And why does everything lead back to the town’s dark past- including the reasons her own mother went missing years before? Nothing is what it seems As the shocking truth is revealed, Paula learns that sometimes, it’s better not to find what you’ve lost.

jorobertson2015’s review is actually of the 4th book in the series, A Savage Hunger.

Jo says: “If you’ve never read this series before I think you would get way more enjoyment of the plot if you start at book 1 in the series. Then I can guarantee you will want to read the rest pretty quickly to catch up! The background descriptions of the troubles in Northern Ireland make this a very detailed and unique police crime procedural written with a great knowledge and understanding of that time. Bringing a present day missing persons case into the mix but still making it feel relevant to the past is a very clever trick indeed. An intelligent and thought provoking read and I can’t WAIT to see where Paula goes from here!”

See the full review at mychestnutreadingtree

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my oedipus complexThe (dreadful) Blurb – The story of the title deals with a little boy named Larry and his feelings towards his father. When his father returns home from World War II, Larry is resentful and jealous of losing his mother’s undivided attention, and finds himself in a constant struggle to win back her affections.

Cathy’s review is actually of Frank O’Connor’s book on the art of the short story, The Lonely Voice, but it inspired me to want to read more of O’Connor’s own work.

Cathy says: Frank O’Connor, the Irish writer and critic died on this day (March 10th) fifty years ago. Born Michael O’Donovan in Cork in 1903, he went on to wrote plays, biographies and essays and has become known as one of the twentieth century’s greatest short story writers. His book The Lonely Voice, based on lectures he gave at Stanford University in the 1960s is now considered to be one of the first in depth and most influential examinations of the short story form.”

See the full review at 746 Books

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house of splendid isolationThe (spoilerish) Blurb – Josie, the ailing, elderly inhabitant of an Irish country mansion, dwells in the shadowy world of remembered pain and loneliness. McGreevy, the terrorist, reintroduces the possibility of compassion and tenderness, but there is an inevitably violent conclusion to their understanding as the police net closes. With extraordinary skill and empathy, Edna O’Brien shows two faces of a divided land: the yearnings of a woman whose youthful joy was broken, and the intransigent idealism of her captor. Brave and moving, The House of Splendid Isolation is Edna O’Brien at her very best.

lailaarch says: Reading House of Splendid Isolation, I bemoaned the fact that I had never read anything by Edna O’Brien before.  I was thoroughly engrossed in the compelling story and propulsive writing style.  O’Brien has crafted a moving story with some thrilling scenes – I was reading the scene where McGreevy breaks into Josie’s house while my husband was working at night, and my son was asleep, and I was convinced I heard a noise outside. (I was totally creeped out!)”

See the full review at Big Reading Life

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NB All blurbs and covers are taken from Goodreads.

As usual I love the sound of all of these so…over to you! Choose just one or as many as you like – the book with most votes will be this week’s winner and added to my TBR…

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Hope you pick a good one! 😉

HAVE A GREAT EASTER! 😀

Tuesday Terror! The Secret of the Growing Gold by Bram Stoker

Wages of sin…

 

Having been kept awake all winter, the fretful porpentine is now off for a relaxing summer break in a spa hole-in-a-tree.

sleepy porpentine

But before he goes, one last chance for his quills to stand on end, with another Irish entry for this week’s…

Tuesday Terror

The Secret of the Growing Gold

 

by Bram Stoker

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Bram Stoker
Bram Stoker

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Two families live side by side, each once proud but now fallen, both in wealth and honour. The Brents are of high stock, while the Delandres are of yeoman class. When Margaret Delandre suddenly goes to live at Brent’s Rock, now home to Geoffrey, the last direct descendant of the family line, the scandal is great, for it is unclear if they have married. Margaret is a wild, evil woman and frankly Geoffrey is no great prize either.

He was almost a type of a worn-out race, manifesting in some ways its most brilliant qualities, and in others its utter degradation. He might be fairly compared with some of those antique Italian nobles whom the painters have preserved to us with their courage, their unscrupulousness, their refinement of lust and cruelty – the voluptuary actual with the fiend potential. He was certainly handsome, with that dark, aquiline, commanding beauty which women so generally recognise as dominant.

We do?? I mean, yes, of course, we do!

 

Well, such a combination is always likely to lead to the occasional tiff…

One thing would lead to another, and wine flowed freely at Brent’s Rock. Now and again the quarrels would assume a bitter aspect, and threats would be exchanged in uncompromising language that fairly awed the listening servants.

But during a trip abroad, Margaret meets with an accident when her carriage, conveniently being led by the exceedingly trustworthy Geoffrey, falls over a cliff. Her body is never recovered.

Some time later, Geoffrey meets a nice young Spanish lady and this time falls genuinely in love. They marry and he brings her to Brent’s Rock, and for a time all seems well. Until one day, Margaret’s brother Wykham Delandre…

…suddenly awoke to see standing before him some one or something like a battered, ghostly edition of his sister. For a few moments there came upon him a sort of fear. The woman before him, with distorted features and burning eyes seemed hardly human, and the only thing that seemed a reality of his sister, as she had been, was her wealth of golden hair…

begorrathon 2016

This vision tells him that she has come for revenge, not against Wykham (even though they had a severe case of sibling rivalry taken to extremes) but against ANOTHER! Later that night, Geoffrey’s bride is awakened as if by the sound of a latch opening. She does what any sensible woman would do in such circumstances – sends her husband down to investigate while she stays in bed…

…trembling, too frightened to cry, and listened to every sound. There was a long pause of silence, and then the sound of some iron implement striking muffled blows! Then there came a clang of a heavy stone falling, followed by a muffled curse.

Suffice to say, things are never quite the same again in the happy household…

* * * * *

This is a good little story, full of nasty people who deserve all they get – well, except for the new bride, who should probably have resisted feeling dominated by those dark, aquiline good looks. (Let that be a warning to us all, ladies! From now on, we should only go for blonds).

It’s in the gothic tradition of walled-up bodies and corpses that simply will not stay dead! But it has an original scare factor, which I must admit I found genuinely creepy. The moral of the story is that you should never argue with a man while he’s guiding your carriage along a cliff-path – or possibly that you should never go down to investigate strange noises in the middle of the night – or maybe that, when burying a body, you should take special care to do it thoroughly…

If you’d like to read it, here’s a link…

Fretful Porpentine rating: 😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:          😀 😀 😀 😀

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Wondering who the gorgeous mystery man is in the top gallery? Prepare to be even more scared…

Dubliners by James Joyce

All the living and the dead…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

the dublinersJoyce’s collection of 15 stories takes the reader through the various strata of Dublin society of the early years of the twentieth century. The prose is of a uniformly high standard, though some of the pieces are too fragmentary and unresolved to be fully satisfying. When Joyce does tell a story, though, he tells it excellently, making me rather regret that he didn’t use standard prose and story-telling techniques more often.

The sum of the collection is greater than its individual parts, however, so that even the shorter character sketches add something to the reader’s understanding of Dublin and its citizens. Despite the wide range of class and circumstance Joyce addresses, each one has a sense of total authenticity, of a deep understanding of how this society intermixes. There is a common theme running throughout, of people trapped, either by circumstance or because of decisions they have made, and many of the stories focus on a moment in the central characters’ lives when they become aware of their trap. Drunkenness, violence and the stifling stranglehold of the Catholic church all play their part in showing a society where aspiration is a rare commodity, usually thwarted. I understand some of the stories were considered shocking at the time for their language and sexual content. Given the relative mildness of them to modern eyes, this fact in itself casts another light on how socially restricted the society was at the time of writing.

The prose is somewhat understated, with Joyce relying more on the penetrating examination of character rather than any flamboyancy of language or stylistic quirks, and that works well for me. He achieves a depth of characterisation with few words, acknowledging his reader’s ability to interpret and understand without the need to have everything spelled out. Just occasionally, this left me floundering a little in the couple of stories where he is addressing contemporary Irish politics or mores, but I accept that’s my weakness rather than his. In the stories where he is addressing more fundamental aspects of human nature, I appreciated his rather sparing style greatly.

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Overall, I found the fully developed stories excellent, while the ones that are primarily character sketches are interesting if not wholly satisfying. However, as a collection, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing, the weaker parts being more than compensated for by the stronger.

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Since it seems to be a Dubliners tradition to name favourites, here are a few of mine…

An Encounter – this story of two young boys ‘miching’ from school is primarily an oblique and unsettling description of their encounter with a man whom we would today describe as a paedophile. But what I loved about it was the young narrator’s recognition of his own ambivalent attitude towards his friend…

My voice had an accent of forced bravery in it and I was ashamed of my paltry stratagem. I had to call the name again before Mahony saw me and halloed in answer. How my heart beat as he came running across the field to me! He ran as if to bring me aid. And I was penitent; for in my heart I had always despised him a little.

* * * * *

A Painful Case – a man re-evaluates his life following the death, perhaps accident, perhaps suicide, of a woman to whom he was once close. This is a wonderful study of that high moral rectitude that can so easily slide over into hypocrisy, and seems to me to be something of a metaphor for the mechanical, unfelt religiosity of much of the society Joyce is portraying throughout the book.

What an end! The whole narrative of her death revolted him and it revolted him to think that he had ever spoken to her of what he held sacred. The threadbare phrases, the inane expressions of sympathy, the cautious words of a reporter won over to conceal the details of a commonplace vulgar death attacked his stomach. Not merely had she degraded herself; she had degraded him. He saw the squalid tract of her vice, miserable and malodorous. His soul’s companion!

* * * * *

James Joyce
James Joyce

The Dead – the longest and most developed story in the book, this ranges beautifully over the various guests attending an evening party, before finally focusing on one man who, in the course of the evening, falls in love with his wife all over again and then has the foundation of his marriage shattered by a sudden revelation. The writing in this one is superb, showing all the sense of community, all the close and distant relationships, that make up this society; but in the end reminding character and reader alike of the ultimate aloneness of the individual, of the unknowableness of even those closest to us.

His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling.

* * * * *

Eveline – this is a beautiful story, full of emotional truthfulness, and my favourite in the collection. Following the death of her mother, a young girl fulfils the promise she made to her to keep the family home together, despite her father’s drunkenness and violence. But now she has met a young man, a sailor, who wants her to come away with him to Buenos Aires. She must decide between love and duty – but on a deeper level, her choice is between courage and cowardice – escape through the open door or remain in the cage. More than any other story, this one seems to me to sum up the major theme of the book, and broke my heart in a few short pages.

She felt her cheek pale and cold and, out of a maze of distress, she prayed to God to direct her, to show her what was her duty. The boat blew a long mournful whistle into the mist…

A bell clanged upon her heart. She felt him seize her hand:

“Come!”

All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He was drawing her into them: he would drown her. She gripped with both hands at the iron railing.

“Come!”

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Amazon UK Link
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In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad 1) by Tana French

A good debut…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

in the woodsIn 1984, three children went into the woods in Knocknaree. Only one returned, with blood – not his own – in his shoes, so traumatised he is never able to remember what happened. The other two children have never been found. That traumatised child is now a detective on the Murder Squad, Rob Ryan. And when another child is found murdered in Knocknaree, he and his partner Cassie are given the case.

I’ve heard so many people rave about Tana French that my expectations were very high going into this, and to some degree they were met. I freely admit that I might have given up within a few pages though, if I had heard nothing about the book. The prologue is one of the most overblown, over-written pieces of pure purple I’ve come across in crime writing, and I barely made it through. Happily, however, having got that out of her system, her writing settles down for the most part to a consistently high standard, only occasionally reverting to purple.

The plot is complex, with several possible motives for why Katy Devlin was murdered. Something about the family seems a bit off, leading the detectives to wonder if there are hidden secrets there. Katy’s father is leading a protest movement against a new road and has been threatened by unknown people if he continues, so it looks like there may be a thread of political corruption there. Katy seems to have left her house in the middle of the night, so there’s a question of whether she knew her murderer and if so how. Or is it possible that the crime is somehow linked back to the earlier tragedy in the woods? Rob knows he should make his boss aware of his links to the earlier crime and step down from the investigation, but he is desperate to be involved, hoping that somehow his memories will return and he will finally know the truth about what happened back then.

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The characterisation is excellent on the whole, not just of the main players, but of the team around Rob and Cassie, and of the various people they come across during the investigation. The one exception, and it’s an important one, is the character of Rob himself. Unfortunately, his voice sounded irredeemably feminine to me, not just in his constant focus on emotions and poetic descriptions of his partner Cassie’s many perfections, but in actual use of words. (The thought of a straight male Dublin police officer describing one of his straight male colleagues as looking ‘adorable’ actually made me laugh out loud.) However, the quality of the writing and plotting was high enough to mostly carry me over this weakness.

Tana French
Tana French

A more serious weakness is the sheer length of the book in relation to its content. At over 600 pages (according to Amazon – I had the unnumbered Kindle version myself), the book is seriously overpadded. I reckon it could have lost 200-300 pages and been the better for it. While the story of Rob’s attempts to regain his lost memories is intriguing, it becomes repetitive after a while, with great swathes of the book devoted to discussing the same event again and again with very little, if anything, being added each time. No matter how well written these digressions may be, they merely serve to make the thing go at a snail’s pace – an elderly snail, at that. Even when the main solution is revealed, the book goes on for a further nearly hundred pages tying everything up, or not, as the case may be. And, as many reviewers have pointed out with varying degrees of dissatisfaction, the resolution is partial, with a bit of spooky woo-woo not really providing a satisfactory reward for 600 pages worth of reader perseverance.

However, the strengths – quality of writing, plotting, characterisation – undoubtedly outweigh the weaknesses – excessive padding, occasional drifts into purple prose, failure to resolve a major plot line. As a debut it is good, and I look forward to reading more of her work to see how her style develops as she progresses.

Amazon UK Link
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Tuesday ’Tec! The Spiteful Shadow by Peter Tremayne

Getting into the habit…

 

the spiteful shadowSince it’s Reading Ireland Month, how about a detective who’s also a nun in 7th century Ireland? Strictly speaking, Peter Tremayne is an Englishman, but since he is a Celtic historian and was made a life member of the Irish Literary Society in 2002, I hereby declare him an honorary Irishman for the purposes of this post. There’s no doubt about Sister Fidelma’s nationality – she was born into the royal family of Munster, and is both a lawyer and a Celtic nun. The Sister Fidelma series appears to be on book 26 – however, it’s new to me. This short story was originally published in 2005, so let’s see if Fidelma merits the title of…

 

Tuesday Tec

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The Spiteful Shadow

 

by Peter Tremayne

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Peter Tremayne
Peter Tremayne

Sister Fidelma has arrived at the Abbey of Durrow on a visit, only to be told by her old friend Abbot Laisran of a horrible murder that has taken place in the abbey. A young Sister is accused of killing one of the men in the community. But Abbot Laisran is worried…

“There are some things in life that appear so simple that you get a strange feeling about them. You question whether things can be so simple and, sure enough, you often find that they are so simple because they have been made to appear simple…”

Sister Scathach is a troubled young woman, who hears voices which she believes come from the Otherworld. These voices give her messages of doom – usually general ones about the destruction of the world and so on – and instruct her to give these messages out to the world. But one day, the message is more specific – that Brother Sioda is doomed to die by having his heart ripped out. And, just as she prophesied, the next day his bloody corpse is found spreadeagled on his bed. When the Abbot goes to Sister Scathach’s room, he finds a bloody robe and an even bloodier dagger, and the room is locked from the inside. So simple, indeed – and yet something doesn’t feel right. For a start, assuming the voices are not from the Otherworld, how could Sister Scathach have known about the girl Sioda had seduced some years ago? And what would be her motive for killing him? It’s up to Sister Fidelma to find the truth…

The Book of Durrow, dating to approximately the time of Fidlema's visit
The Book of Durrow, dating to approximately the time of Fidelma’s visit

Sister Fidelma may be a nun, but she’s not about to be taken in by the whole hearing voices thing…

“I believe in the Otherworld and our transition from this one to that but… I think that those who repose in the Otherworld have more to do than to try to return to this one to murder people. I have investigated several similar matters…there is always a human agency at work.”

However, one can’t help but wonder if, just occasionally, Sister Fidelma also hears voices from the Otherworld – in this case, the bit of the Otherworld that is situated in 221b Baker Street…

“My theory is that when you subtract the impossible, you will find your answers in the possible.”

When Sister Fidelma visits Sister Scathach in her cell and hears her own story of the mysterious voices, she is even more convinced that this is a very human murder, and sets out to find the culprit and the motive…

Celtic cross from Durrow Abbey
Celtic cross from Durrow Abbey

* * * * *

Given the short length of this story, it’s interesting, though not really a solvable mystery for the reader. Basically each interview that Fidelma holds leads her one step further towards the solution until she reaches the culprit. However, it’s well written and the historical setting intrigued me a lot. Given Tremayne’s credentials as a historian, one assumes his depiction is reasonably accurate, and this early Christian society seems very different to the later monasteries and abbeys we might be more used to in historical fiction. For example, there is no rule to prevent marriage between the male and female members of the abbey, so they are not quite as we imagine nuns and monks, which throws open the whole question of possible motives.

There isn’t really enough room here to develop too much sense of place or characterisation, but it gives enough of a flavour of Fidelma and her way of life to make me interested enough to try out one of the full length novels. A decent introduction to what looks like it might be an enjoyable, fairly cosy series.

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* * * * *

Little Grey Cells rating:

Overall story rating:      😀 😀 😀 😀

Amazon UK Link
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The Cold, Cold Ground (Sean Duffy 1) by Adrian McKinty

the cold cold groundUnlicensed to kill…

🙂 🙂 🙂

It’s May 1981, and Northern Ireland is on the brink of a complete breakdown of law and order, possibly even civil war. IRA prisoners in the Maze are on hunger strike, and when the first one dies the streets erupt in violent riots. In the midst of this mayhem, a man is found dead with his hand cut off. At first the police assume the victim was an informer, punished by one or other of the bunches of murderous nutters who held sway in NI at that time. However, when a second body is found, it appears that these killings may be nothing to do with the unrest – it looks like Northern Ireland might have its first serial killer, targeting gay men. It’s up to Detective Sergeant Sean Duffy and his team to catch him before he kills again…

The book starts out well. McKinty has a great writing style and paints an authentic seeming picture of NI at the height of the Troubles. The book is told in the first-person past-tense from Duffy’s viewpoint and he gives a good insight into the various divisions and factions that ruled the streets in those days. He also shows how socially conservative this small part of the world still was, even more than mainland Britain. The book touches not only on the victimisation of homosexuals but on the question of unmarried motherhood – shown as a thing so shameful that women would attempt to hide pregnancies, abandon their babies, or even, in some cases, commit suicide.

Duffy and his team are all likeable characters, and the interactions between them provide some humour which prevents the story from becoming too bleak. The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) was, of course, a major target for the IRA and Catholic officers in particular were seen as traitors, selling out for English gold. McKinty shows Duffy as a Catholic who, like the vast majority, wants peace and in his case is prepared to put himself at risk to be part of achieving it, as many did in real life, too.

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So there are many good things about the book. Unfortunately, however, credibility begins to nose-dive early on and eventually crashes into the set of a second-rate Bond pastiche. First off, a Catholic police officer is ridiculously unlikely to have bought a house in a Protestant stronghold at that time, unless he really had a death wish. The idea of him having a police issue sub-machine gun lying about on his hall table for weeks (just so’s it’d be handy when the plot required it) is ludicrous. That Willie Whitelaw, then Home Secretary, would ever have phoned a low-ranking police officer on behalf of MI5 is laughable. Et cetera, et cetera. And the ending, which obviously I can’t discuss, is like something out of a low-budget Bruce Willis rip-off.

I think part of the problem is that McKinty, who lives in America, may be aiming for that market, and using words like “gasoline” instead of “petrol” reinforced that feeling. The more ridiculous the plot became, the less authentic the rest of the book felt to me. The quality of the research in the earlier part of the book means that I feel it must have been a deliberate choice rather than lack of knowledge for McKinty to veer so far beyond the credibility line as the book progressed – I suspect the words “movie deal” may have been on his to-do list.

Adrian McKinty
Adrian McKinty

A couple of final, brief criticisms. It’d be great if just once he could introduce a female character without immediately assessing her sexual attractiveness and/or willingness. I know that’s a noir tradition, but, you know, traditions don’t have to be followed slavishly once they become outdated. And, as with so much modern crime, the book is way too long for its content – there’s about a hundred pages in the middle that could have been cut with no loss.

Hard to rate – I found the first half very enjoyable, which made my disappointment with the long dip in the middle followed by the implausibility of the rest greater than it would otherwise have been. It works reasonably well as a slow thriller, but doesn’t live up to its early promise of giving a realistic picture of the difficulties of policing Northern Ireland in the midst of the Troubles.

Amazon UK Link
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This post is part of Reading Ireland Month 2016 – #begorrathon16 – being jointly hosted by Cathy at 746 Books and Niall at Raging Fluff.

Tuesday Terror! The White Cat of Drumgunniol by J Sheridan Le Fanu

Who’s afraid of the big, bad cat?

 

Since it is Reading Ireland Month, it seems only appropriate that we should have a bit of Irish horror before the nights lighten and the porpentine goes into hibernation. And any story with “White Cat” in the title already chills me to the marrow – my Tommy may have the occasional black blobby bit, but I suspect that’s just to lull people into a false sense of security. But he’d never harm me… would he?

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Anyway. Let’s find out what his doppelganger is up to in this week’s…

 

Tuesday Terror

The White Cat of Drumgunniol
by J Sheridan Le Fanu

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J Sheridan Le Fanu (source: wikipedia)
J Sheridan Le Fanu

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The story is told to the narrator by Daniel Donovan, a teacher, a simple, honest man with a “dreamy mind”. Dan tells first of an experience he had as a boy, while sitting reading by the little lough on the property, a deep pool. He saw approach a woman wearing an out-dated long grey dress…

When she came near I could see that her feet were bare, and that she seemed to be looking steadfastly upon some remote object for guidance. Her route would have crossed me—had the tarn not interposed—about ten or twelve yards below the point at which I was sitting. But instead of arresting her course at the margin of the lough, as I had expected, she went on without seeming conscious of its existence, and I saw her, as plainly as I see you, sir, walk across the surface of the water, and pass, without seeming to see me…

Dan still finds the memory of that day terrifying as he connects it in his mind with a curse that has afflicted his family for over eighty years. He explains by telling of one day long ago, when his father, having attended the local market, returned late in the evening. His face drawn and pale, he sat by the fire, unable to face the meal his wife had prepared. She berated him for having eaten elsewhere, until eventually he told her what had happened on the way home…

‘There’s something happened that leaves me that I can’t ate a mouthful, and I’ll not be dark with you, Molly, for, maybe, it ain’t very long I have to be here, an’ I’ll tell you what it was. It’s what I’ve seen, the white cat…pushin’ out o’ the long grass at the side o’ the path, an’ it walked across it, in front of me, an’ then back again, before me, the same way, an’ sometimes at one side, an’ then at the other, lookin’ at me wid them shinin’ eyes; and I consayted I heard it growlin’ as it kep’ beside me—as close as ever you see—till I kem up to the doore, here, an’ knocked an’ called, as ye heerd me.’

Mother and son were both horrified, for they knew the meaning of the appearance of the white cat. And sure enough, within a month, the father had taken a fever and died.

lady in white

Dan then tells the story of why the family seems to live under this curse. It all dates back to the time when his grand-uncle, Connor Donovan, betrayed Ellen, a young woman to whom he had made promises, by marrying another woman for money. Poor Ellen died of a broken heart (pre-feminism, obviously). Connor continued on his selfish rather cruel way, until one evening…

As he approached the ‘gap’ he saw, or thought he saw, with a slow motion, gliding along the ground toward the same point, and now and then with a soft bound, a white object, which he described as being no bigger than his hat, but what it was he could not see, as it moved along the hedge and disappeared at the point to which he was himself tending…

‘Twas not long after this that Connor met his death. But as he lay in his coffin, it became clear the white cat had not finished with him yet…

* * * * *

This is a good little story, though not overly scary. Le Fanu builds up the atmosphere with some beautifully Gothic descriptive writing…

I have looked round on the peculiar landscape; the roofless, ivied tower, that two hundred years before had afforded a refuge from raid and rapparee, and which still occupies its old place in the angle of the haggard; the bush-grown ‘liss,’ that scarcely a hundred and fifty steps away records the labours of a bygone race; the dark and towering outline of old Keeper in the background; and the lonely range of furze and heath-clad hills that form a nearer barrier, with many a line of grey rock and clump of dwarf oak or birch. The pervading sense of loneliness made it a scene not unsuited for a wild and unearthly story.

And his use of dialect within the speech adds interest without making it difficult to follow, even if a few of the words are unfamiliar. It’s a straightforward tale, told as if true, and although the narrator (who I assume is Le Fanu himself) hints that the surroundings are such as may turn a man’s mind towards superstition and fancy, he describes Dan in such a way as to make him seem a level-headed and truthful man. So it’s very much left up to the reader to decide…

If you’d like to read it, here’s a link…

Now if you’ll excuse me, Tommy wants his tummy tickled, and I think I’d best obey…

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Fretful Porpentine rating: 😯 😯

Overall story rating:          😀 😀 😀 😀

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This post is part of Reading Ireland Month 2016 – #begorrathon16 – being jointly hosted by Cathy at 746 Books and Niall at Raging Fluff.

The Heather Blazing by Colm Tóibín

Weighed in the balances…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

the heather blazingOn the last day of the legal term, High Court judge Eamon Redmond will deliver a judgement and then head off for the summer to Cush on the coast of County Wexford, where he has spent all his summers since childhood. Outwardly he is a successful man, well respected in the country, an advisor to the government, and someone who takes the responsibility of his position seriously. But he is also reserved, his life ruled by order, and somewhat remote even from his closest family. As the summer progresses, he finds events in the present force him to revisit and re-assess his past.

Like so many of Tóibín’s books, this is almost entirely a character study with very little in the way of plot. Generally speaking, that doesn’t work for me, but Tóibín’s deceptively plain prose and in-depth understanding of the people and communities he’s writing about exert an almost hypnotic effect on me, drawing me into the lives of the people he offers up for inspection – characters so entirely real and well-drawn that it becomes hard after a time to think of them as in any way fictional. This effect is magnified by his siting of so many of his novels in and around the town of Enniscorthy, where Tóibín himself grew up – a place whose culture and society I have gradually come to feel I understand almost as intimately as my own hometown.

History plays a major role in this book, both personal and political. Eamon’s mother died in childbirth leaving him an only child to be brought up by his father and extended family. His grandfather was involved in the 1916 Easter Rising and his father too played a part, albeit small, in the troubled history of the country. Through them, Eamon is introduced early to the politics of Fianna Fáil, and the opportunity in his late teens to make a speech in front of the revered leader of the uprising, Éamon de Valera, gains him the support that sets him on the path to his present position. Yet now decades later, he is a pillar of the Establishment, delivering judgements on Nationalist terrorists.

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The same dichotomy exists in his personal life. The judgement he is about to give is on a schoolgirl, an unmarried mother, who wishes to go back to school. The Catholic school has expelled her on the grounds that her return would send a dangerous moral message to their other pupils. His musings show his doubts over the religious aspects built into the Constitution, and in his own ability to decide right and wrong. He considers using his judgement to redefine the family as it was understood when the Constitution was written, but in the end, through a kind of cowardice, he decides in favour of the school. It is a feature of his remoteness that he gives no consideration to the fact that his own daughter is pregnant and unmarried when reaching his decision – this is a man whose work and family are kept in strictly separate compartments.

Tóibín’s prose is always understated, relying on precision and clarity rather than poetic flourishes for its effect. Despite this, there is a deep emotionalism in his work, an utter truthfulness that can be, in its quietness, as devastating as any great overblown work of drama. In a book full of parallels, Eamon’s story is headed and tailed by two commonplace tragedies – his father’s stroke while Eamon was still at school, and his wife’s stroke and subsequent death in the present day. His early life is beautifully observed, with scenes such as the family gathering at Christmas showing all the depth of family and community in small town Ireland. And his courtship of Carmel, his future wife, is no Romeo and Juliet affair – it’s a truthful account of two young people coming together who share many of the same views on life and are able to compromise on the rest.

Colm Tóibín
Colm Tóibín

It is in understanding Eamon’s childhood and early years that we come to understand the adult man, and in a sense his life and family history mirrors that of Ireland too – the tumultuous century of rebellions and civil strife drawing towards a quieter ending as Tóibín was writing in the early ’90s; the past not forgotten, the future not yet certain, the direction in the hands of those in power, many of whom would have to make major shifts in their political stance to achieve a hope of settled peace. Tóibín is never overtly political in his writing, but his deep insight into this society of Enniscorthy, built up layer on layer with each book he sets there, provides a microcosm for us to see the slow process of change taking place, the small shifts in attitude that gradually make the big political adjustments possible.

In truth, Eamon’s story didn’t resonate with me quite as deeply as Tóibín’s women, but I suspect that’s to do with my own gender rather than the book. Sometimes my lack of knowledge of Irish history left me feeling I wasn’t getting the full nuance of parts of the story. But it is another wonderful character study, moving and insightful, that adds a further dimension to Tóibín’s portrayal of this community. Coincidentally, I followed immediately on my reading of this book with Joyce’s Dubliners, and began to feel that, although Tóibín is working on small-town life and in full-length novels, in some ways his books have the same effect as Joyce’s stories – each one concentrating on a single aspect, but together building to give a complete and profound picture of a complexly intertwined society.

Amazon UK Link
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This post is part of Reading Ireland Month 2016 – #begorrathon16 – being jointly hosted by Cathy at 746 Books and Niall at Raging Fluff.

TBR Thursday 75…

The Begorrathon special…

 

A dramatic drop in the TBR this week! Down two to 160!! At that rate, I’ll have run out of things to read in less than two years!*

*(Later that same day… 2 approved by NetGalley. Back up to 162. Hurrah! My fears of running out were premature!)

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March is Begorrathon time (posh name: Reading Ireland Month 2016) – an event celebrating all things Irish, run jointly by Cathy at 746 Books and Raging Fluff. Though books are a big part of it, posts are also welcome on anything Irish – music, film, restaurants, recipes, your personal shillelagh collection, etc. For all the details, please pop over to Cathy’s blog – here’s the link – where you’ll find it’s the best sort of challenge – very relaxed, minimum rules, maximum fun!

So I’ve trawled through the TBR and boosted all the Irish books up the list in preparation. Here are the ones I hope to read and review during the Begorrathon… might not get through them all, what with review books and GAN Quests and New Year’s Resolutions and all, but we’ll see…

Fiction

 

the heather blazingI already included this in last week’s TBR Thursday, but when Cathy reminded me about The Begorrathon, I put it back to March.

The Blurb – The sea is slowly eating into the land, and the hill with the old watchtower has completely disappeared. The nearest house has crumbled and fallen into the sea. It is Ireland in the late twentieth century. Eamon Redmond is a judge in the Irish High Court. Obsessed all his life by the letter and spirit of the law, he is just beginning to discover how painfully unconnected he is from other human beings. With effortless fluency, Colm Tóibín reconstructs the history of Eamon’s relationships – with his father, his first “girl”, his wife, and the children who barely know him. He gives us a family as minutely realized as any of John McGahern’s, and he writes about Eamon’s affection for the landscape of his childhood on the east coast of Ireland with such skill that the land itself becomes a character. The result is a novel that ensnares us with its emotional intensity and dazzles with its crystalline prose.

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the dublinersOK, I’ve been putting it off long enough – time for some Joyce! Jilanne recommended this one to me so long ago it’s embarrassing – she says The Dead is, perhaps, her favourite story of all time…

The BlurbAlthough James Joyce began these stories of Dublin life in 1904, when he was 22, and had completed them by the end of 1907, they remained unpublished until 1914 — victims of Edwardian squeamishness. Their vivid, tightly focused observations of the life of Dublin’s poorer classes, their unconventional themes, coarse language, and mention of actual people and places made publishers of the day reluctant to undertake sponsorship. Today, however, the stories are admired for their intense and masterly dissection of “dear dirty Dublin,” and for the economy and grace with which Joyce invested this youthful fiction.

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let the great world spinThis should really be in with the GAN Quest books, but I didn’t include it in the current batch and I’m tired of waiting. But I’ll still be reading it with an eye on whether it shapes up as a Great American Novel. It sneaks into The Begorrathon too, though, since McCann is Irish. DesertDweller has recommended it to me twice, so it must be good!

The Blurb says: New York, August 1974. A man is walking the sky. The city stands still in awe. Between the newly built Twin Towers the man is striding, twirling and showboating his way through the air. One hundred and ten stories below him, the lives of eight strangers spin towards each other…

Set against a time of sweeping political and social change, from the backlash to the Vietnam War and the lingering sceptre of the oil crisis to the beginnings of the Internet – a time that hauntingly mirrors the present time – these disparate lives will collide in the shadow of one reckless and beautiful act, and be transformed for ever.

Weaving together themes of love, loss, belonging, duty and human striving, Let the Great World Spin celebrates the effervescent spirit of an age and the small beauties of everyday life. At once intimate and magnificent, elegant and astonishing, it is a lyrical masterpiece from a storyteller who continues to use the wide world as his canvas.

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Crime

 

the cold cold groundJust about every crime blogger has recommended Adrian McKinty at one time or another – most recently Carol at Reading Writing and Riesling. This one’s been sitting on my Kindle since August 2013 – better read it before it biodegrades…

The Blurb says: Featuring Catholic cop Sean Duffy whose outsider status in the mostly Protestant RUC makes it as hard to do his job as the criminals he’s fighting, this is the start of a new series set in Troubles-era Belfast. A body is found in a burnt out car. Another is discovered hanging from a tree. Could this be Northern Ireland’s first serial killer, or another paramilitary feud?

 

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in the woodsAnother one that’s been recommended by loads of people, but it was Lady Fancifull that persuaded me in the end…

The Blurb says: ‘You’re twelve years old. It’s the summer holiday. You’re playing in the woods with your two best friends. Something happens. Something terrible. And the other two are never seen again.’

Twenty years on, Rob Ryan – the child who came back – is a detective in the Dublin police force. He’s changed his name. No one knows about his past. Even he has no memory of what happened that day.

Then a little girl’s body is found at the site of the old tragedy and Rob is drawn back into the mystery. For him and his DI partner, Cassie, every lead comes with its own sinister undercurrents. The victim’s apparently normal family is hiding layers of secrets. Rob’s own private enquiries are taking a toll on his mind. And every trail leads inexorably back . . . into the woods.

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Film

 

brooklynLoved the book – how will the movie compare? I’ve heard only good things about this, and it comes out on DVD at the end of Feb – they must have heard about The Begorrathon…

The Blurb says: Saoirse Ronan and Domhnall Gleeson star in this romantic drama adapted from the novel by Colm Tóibín. Set in the 1950s, the story follows young Irish woman Ellis Lacey (Ronan) as she travels to New York City in search of a better life. Initially homesick, she begins to adjust to her new surroundings with the help of Italian-American Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen) with whom she becomes romantically involved. After news of a family crisis, Ellis returns to Ireland where she enjoys spending time back in her hometown and becomes acquainted with a young man, Jim Farrell (Gleeson), finding herself torn between two very different paths. The cast also includes Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Picture.

NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

 

Are you joining in The Begorrathon? You know you want to…