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Noll's Irish Counties Challenge


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#1 Nollaig

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Posted 21 January 2016 - 05:42 PM

This is similar to the English Counties and US States challenges, wherein I read at least one contemporary novel by an author born or raised in each of the 32 Irish counties. I'm including Northern Ireland because it has a significant attachment to the Republic, even if it is a separate entity. My secondary goal is to read all of the books on this list.

Guidelines

  • All included works are preferably novels written after 1950.
    Failing that, short story collections from a similar time period. They may be set in older time periods, e.g. during the famine. (This is just personal preference for categories on my part.)
  • All authors were either born in, or raised in, the county they are associated with.
    For many authors, this means they are associated with more than one county. In most cases I choose authors born in a county, but if I am lacking choice I will choose an author raised in that county.
  • Each author will only be listed once.
    In instances where I have read multiple books by one listed author, I will name my favourite.

***
Green is read
Yellow is owned
Grey is not yet acquired

(A) The book has won an award
 
***

Munster (3/6)
Clare ["Pretending" - Caroline Williams] ["The Country Girls" or "The Little Red Chairs" - Edna O'Brien]
Cork - ["Only Ever Yours"(A) - Louise O'Neill] ["Spill Simmer Falter Wither"(A) - Sara Baume] ["The Story of Lucy Gault" - William Trevor] ["To School Through The Fields" - Alice Taylor] ["Distress Signals" - Catherine Ryan Howard]
Kerry - ["The Last Days Of Rabbit Hayes" - Anna McPartlin] ["The Bodhrán Makers" - John B. Keane] ["Trouble in the Glen" - Maurice Walsh]
Limerick - ["Watermelon" or "Rachel's Holiday" - Marian Keyes] ["City of Bohane" or "Beatlebone" - Kevin Barry]
Tipperary - ["The Thing About December" or "The Spinning Heart" - Donal Ryan] ["One Day As A Tiger" - Anne Haverty]
Waterford - ["After the Rising" - Orna Ross] ["The Sea & The Silence" - Peter Cunningham]

Connacht (1/5)
Galway - ["The Guards" - Ken Bruen] ["The China Factory" or "Academy Street" - Mary Costello] ["The Woman on the Bus" - Pauline McLynn] ["The Glorious Heresies" - Lisa McInerney] ["The Island of Ghosts" - Eilis Dillon] ["Rain on the Wind" - Walter Macken]
Leitrim - [Undecided - John McGahern]
Mayo["Young Skins: Stories" or "Castaway" - Colin Barrett] ["Nineteen Acres" - John Healy] ["Solar Bones" - Mike McCormack]
Roscommon - ["The Deposition of Father McGreevy" - Brian O'Doherty] ["Death and Plenty" - Brian Leyden]
Sligo - ["Mistaken"(A) - Neil Jordan] ["A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing" - Eimear McBride] ["Echoes of a Savage Land" - Joe McGowan]

Leinster (5/12)
Carlow - ["Thy Tears Might Cease" - Michael Farrell] ["Moon Man" - David Donohue]
Dublin -  [undecided - John Boyne] ["The Green Road"(A) or "The Gathering"(A) - Anne Enright] ["The Dirty Dust" - Máirtín O Cadhain] ["The Star of the Sea" - Joseph O'Connor] ["Thirteen Ways of Looking" or "TransAtlantic" or "Dancer"(A) - Colum McCann] ["Four Letters of Love" - Niall Williams] ["At Swim, Two Boys" - Jamie O'Neill] ["Under the Hawthorne Tree - Marita Conlon-McKenna]
Kildare - ["Good Behaviour" - Molly Keane] ["Langrishe, Go Down" - Aidan Higgins] ["The Herbalist"(A) - Niamh Boyce]
Kilkenny - ["The Big Chapel" - Thomas Kilroy]
Laois - ["Seeds of Doubt" - James Ryan]
Longford - ["Solace"(A) and "Tender" - Belinda McKeon] ["Sisters and Lies" - Bernice Barrington] ["In the Wake of the Bagger" - Jack Harte]
Louth - ["The Magical Mystical, Marvelous Coat" - Catherine Ann Cullen] ["Nothing on Earth" - Conor O'Callaghan]
Meath - ["The Hidden Damage" - James Stern] ["Hunters" - Aoife Marie Sheridan]
Offaly - ["The Lie of the Land" - P. J. Cunningham]
Westmeath - ["Long Time, No See" - Dermot Healy] ["Damage" - Josephine Hart] ["Under The Eye of the Clock" - Christopher Nolan]
Wexford - ["The Guns Of Easter" - Gerard Whelan] [Undecided - Colm Toíbín] ["Beyond Belief" - Colm O'Gorman] ["The Book of Evidence" or "Christine Falls" (as Benjamin Black) - John Banville] ["The Convinctions of John Delahunt" - Andrew Hughes] ["Airman" - Eoin Colfer] ["Tumblin' Down" - Billy Roche] ["Every Time a Bell Rings" - Carmel Harrington] 
Wicklow - ["Foster" - Claire Keegan]

Ulster (5/9)
Antrim - ["Time Present and Time Past" - Deirdre Madden] ["Cal" - Bernard MacLaverty]
Armagh - ["Snapshots" - Jarlath Gregory] ["The Twelve" - Stuart Neville] 
Cavan - ["Bird in the Snow" or "Staring at Lakes"(A) - Michael Harding]
Derry - ["The Misremembered Man" or "My Mother Wore a Yellow Dress" - Christina McKenna] ["Borderlands" - Brian McGilloway] ["Reading in the Dark" - Seamus Deane]
Donegal - ["Fox" - Matthew Sweeney] ["Bogmail" - Patrick McGinley] ["Lament in the Wind" - Hazel McIntyre] ["The Last of the Name" - Charles McGlinchey] ["The Black Snow" - Paul Lynch] ["The Call" - Peadar O'Guilín]
Down - ["A Parachute in the Lime Tree" - Annemarie Neary] ["Mystery Man" - Colin Bateman] ["An Irish Country Doctor" - Patrick Taylor] ["Resurrection Man" - Eoin McNamee]
Fermanagh - ["The Little Hammer" or "From Out of the City" - John Kelly]
Monaghan - ["The Talk of the Town" - Ardal O'Hanlon] ["The Butcher Boy" or "Winterwood"(A) or "Breakfast on Pluto" - Patrick McCabe] ["Call My Brother Back" - Michael McLaverty] ["Death and Nightingales" - Eugene McCabe]
Tyrone - ["The House Where it Happened" and "About Sisterland" - Martina Devlin] ["Singing Bird" - Roisin McAuley] ["The Third Policeman" - Flann O'Brien] ["Over Nine Waves: A Book of Irish Myths" - Marie Heaney]
 

Total counties: 14/32

Total books: 19



#2 Janet

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Posted 21 January 2016 - 10:18 PM

Is it okay to post in here yet?   If not, please say and I'll copy my post and repost it when you're ready!  :)

 

I shall be following this challenge with interest.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I'm enjoying the English Counties challenge.

 

Have you ever read any Marion Keyes?   Her stuff isn't my kind of read these days, but if you're not familiar with it then I remember Rachel's Holiday being really good, even if it is many years since I read it.

 

You have such romantic sounding counties and regions/districts.  :wub:

 

Happy reading.  :)



#3 Nollaig

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Posted 21 January 2016 - 11:15 PM

Thanks Janet! Totally okay to post here, it's a small enough challenge so it will be all contained in the first post. I hope a few people will stick their heads in - my goal here is to explore more contemporary Irish fiction and hopefully find/draw attention to lesser known modern authors, rather than the usual classic giants of Irish literature. I'll be posting all the reviews both here and in my usual blog thread.

 

I haven't read anything by Marian Keyes, and I was trying to decide which of her endless bibliography to select - I shall go with your suggestion! I'm updating it all in an Excel file first, referencing Goodreads and tagging everything on there, and then I'll copy it all into here and my blog thread. I don't half make life awkward for myself! :giggle:

 

Haha, I suppose we do, I don't take much notice really! :lol:



#4 Athena

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Posted 22 January 2016 - 06:36 AM

This is a nice idea for a challenge :)! I have to admit, I haven't heard of most of the authors in your challenge. I hope you have fun :)!

#5 Nollaig

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Posted 22 January 2016 - 07:48 AM

*I* haven't even heard of most of the authors in this challenge - and shame on me for it, I'm Irish and I'm an avid reader, I should know what my people are up to!! This is gonna be a great way for me to discover loads of Irish talent (or lack thereof in some cases I'm sure :giggle:)



#6 chesilbeach

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Posted 22 January 2016 - 06:23 PM

I'll be following with interest too! :D  I've read a few of the authors you've mentioned, although I haven't heard of most of the others either, but like Janet, I'm thoroughly enjoying reading the English Counties books and hope you find as many great Irish books as we've had on our challenge so far.  Good luck  :readingtwo: 



#7 Nollaig

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Posted 22 January 2016 - 08:07 PM

Thanks Claire! :D I found so many authors from Dublin while I was compiling the list (approx 30 without trying), so I think next year's challenge may be '50 Contemporary Dublin Authors'!



#8 Nollaig

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Posted 08 February 2016 - 02:06 PM

County: Limerick/Donegal 

Book: The Black Snow - Paul Lynch

 
Genre: Fiction
Synopsis: In Donegal in the spring of 1945, a farmhand runs into a burning barn and does not come out alive. The farm's owner, Barnabas Kane, can only look on as his friend dies and all 43 of his cattle are destroyed in the blaze. Following the disaster, the bull-headed and proudly self-sufficient Barnabas is forced to reach out to the community for assistance. But resentment simmers over the farmhand's death, and Barnabas and his family begin to believe their efforts at recovery are being sabotaged. His teenage son struggles under the weight of a terrible secret, and his wife is suffocated by the uncertainty surrounding their future.  In The Black Snow, Paul Lynch takes the pastoral novel and--with the calmest of hands---tears it apart. With beautiful, haunting prose, Lynch illuminates what it means to live through crisis, and puts to the test our deepest certainties about humankind.

*** 

Review: Wow, what a start to my Irish Counties Challenge. I hardly feel worthy to review this novel as I'm pretty sure Paul Lynch utters more beautiful turns of phrase whilst mumbling in his sleep than I can when at my most articulate. Although relatively short, this novel forces you to take your time with exquisite prose that you'll want to savor. Slow moving and not consisting of a huge amount of plot, the flowery writing and gentle pace actually serve to exaggerate the turmoil and devastation felt by the characters in the novel. It took me well over a week to read this book, because I had to take it in short bursts, but despite the dense prose and lack of speech punctuation there is a simplicity to the story and a realism to the characters that makes it easy to pick up and recall everything with ease.

I feel I should probably warn potential readers that this is an immensely bleak book, which depicts the gradual self-destruction of Barnabas Kane and the fallout of that cast onto his family. I sincerely hope, however, that would not put anyone off reading it. There is so much to love about this book, offset as that is by the tragedy it portrays. The characters are so credibly drawn, but more than that, striking is the picture of a rural community set in its traditional ways, stubborn, opposed to newness and change; of conflict caused by the 'local strangers', the Kane family, as Barnabas impinges on community belief and heritage in his attempt to salvage his livelihood from misfortune.

A subplot featuring the Kane son, Billy, is told through diary entries, and while interesting in its own right, is ultimately never solidly tied back into the main story. Towards the end, I thought more was going to be outrightly resolved than actually was - in fact one pervasive question is never answered at all - but this did not detract from the story, which actually shocked me three separate times with dramatic events and, while unexpected, in hindsight it feels like things could not have gone any other way.

A beautiful, heart-breaking story absolutely worth reading.

Rating: ★★★★★ (It was amazing)



#9 Janet

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Posted 08 February 2016 - 02:16 PM

I hardly feel worthy to review this novel as I'm pretty sure Paul Lynch utters more beautiful turns of phrase whilst mumbling in his sleep than I can when at my most articulate.

:giggle2:

 

I feel like I've heard of this author, but I don't know why?  This book sounds good though - I'm glad you enjoyed it and have had such a great start to your challenge.  :)   I'm going to look him up on Wikipedia to see if I've heard of any of his books. 

 

Edit:  Nope, I must be thinking of someone else.  :)



#10 Nollaig

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Posted 08 February 2016 - 04:33 PM

:giggle2:

 

I feel like I've heard of this author, but I don't know why?  This book sounds good though - I'm glad you enjoyed it and have had such a great start to your challenge.  :)   I'm going to look him up on Wikipedia to see if I've heard of any of his books. 

 

Edit:  Nope, I must be thinking of someone else.  :)

 

I don't know either, I had never heard of him! :lol: Thank you! I'm glad too - I'm nearly finished the second book for it and I'm loving that too. Us Irish, eh? Fair talented bunch. :giggle:



#11 Janet

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Posted 08 February 2016 - 05:51 PM

To be sure!
 
(Sorry, sorry, sorry - I couldn't resist :lurker:   ) xx

#12 Nollaig

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Posted 09 February 2016 - 01:02 PM

To be sure!
 
(Sorry, sorry, sorry - I couldn't resist :lurker:   ) xx

 

:irked:  :D



#13 Nollaig

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Posted 09 February 2016 - 01:04 PM

County: Tyrone

Book: About Sisterland - Martina Devlin

 
Genre: Dystopian/Extremism
Synopsis: Welcome to Sisterland. A world ruled by women. A world designed to be perfect. Here, women and men are kept separate. Women lead highly controlled and suffocating lives, while men are subordinate – used for labour and breeding. Sisterland’s leaders have been watching Constance and recognise that she’s special. Selected to reproduce, she finds herself alone with a man for the first time. But the mate chosen for her isn’t what she expected – and she begins to see a darker side to Sisterland. Constance’s misgivings about the regime mount. Is she the only one who questions this unequal society, or are there other doubters?

*** 

Review: About Sisterland started off exceptionally well - so much so that I was actually surprised that it is so little known. Martina Devlin is no newbie to noveling, and yet this book has very few reviews or ratings on Goodreads. Comparatively, YA dystopia Only Ever Yours (also dealing with extremism, but related to aesthetic pressure on women) absolutely blew up the YA and Irish book worlds. Granted, towards the end of this novel - maybe two thirds of the way through - I began to feel it was losing its way and it never quite recovered - ultimately not packing nearly as strong a punch as the aforementioned OEY, but it's still a very original, interesting spin on extreme dystopia. It also throws local lingo at the reader without explanation (other than a glossary at the back), so the reader is forced to pay attention and catch on quickly. This is one of the few dystopian books that has successfully drawn me in on that front.

This book is extremely easy to read - I read two thirds of it in one evening, and finished it the next afternoon - and the dystopian setting constructed by Devlin is wonderfully detailed and equally fascinating. From the outset, small unsettling details like the covering of womens faces with masks, and the apparent inability of women to feel, will strike unease in the reader. Over the course of the novel, a complex, allegedly utopic society is gradually deconstructed by Constance and the followers of her deceased other, Silence. One of my favourite aspects of this novel is the portrayal of men as base creatures, slaves to female governance - a lot of dystopian books I've come across either subjugate women, or a mixed-gender class of society. But I also loved that women did not get off Scot-free either - this is not the story of men rebelling against female overlords, it a chilling, thought-provoking study of multi-faceted extremism - enforced slavery and pleasant brain-washing.

So why then, did I only like and not love it? Unfortunately, the last third let it down in my opinion. The pace began to change, too much happened too easily and without enough explanation. Several things were mentioned, but not elaborated upon. Many of the characters, aside from Constance and Harper, blended into one for me, and I found myself unable to discern specific characters beyond their political allegiances. And ultimately, the final third just packed in too much unnecessary content that felt like a drawn-out epilogue, for a resolution that could have been brought about far more simply. It felt disjointed, and not a natural conclusion for an otherwise great story.

All the same, worth a read if the premise intrigues you.

Rating:  (I liked it)


#14 Nollaig

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Posted 20 March 2016 - 04:15 PM

County: Westmeath

Book: Long Time, No See - Dermot Healy

 
Genre: Irish/Fiction
Synopsis: 'Long Time, No See' introduces us to the unforgettable world of Mister Psyche. In the coastal townland of Ballintra in Ireland, recent school-leaver, occasional worker, full-time companion and Malibu-provider to Uncle Joe-Joe and his friend, the Blackbird, Psyche is a boy on the cusp of adulthood, undone by a recent traumatic event.

*** 

Review: While this novel was beautifully written, that's largely all I can say for it. It was so beautifully written that it was still enough of a pleasure to read that I can say I actually liked it, even though it was a bit of a slog towards the end and I couldn't wait to finish it. I'm glad I've read it, but I'll never read it again - it's one of those sorts of book. 

I'm not sure whether the story is some big allegory or metaphor for something, whether there's any bigger picture meant to emerge from the sum total of the individual events and interactions, but if there is, it was utterly lost on me. Maybe there was no greater purpose, and I'm okay with that sometimes, in a book, if the journey of reading it is a satisfying one in and of itself. While reading the book, especially initially, was somewhat enjoyable, it wasn't a satisfying read. I found the characters fairly lifeless - the 'relationship' beween Psyche and his alleged girlfriend Anna is basically non-existent, the apparent untimely death of Psyche's friend (before the book begins) has no apparent impact on him. Perhaps the other characters are only rendered lifeless through his emotional detachment - I do feel there could have been a good story surrounding his uncle and uncle's friend, but it was hardly touched upon.

There is a tendency in Irish writing to be poetic and lyrical, I think it's just in our nature, but only some authors can pull it off well. Additionally, as seems to be common in lyrical Irish novels, there was a needless exclusion of speech punctuation marks. This was also the case in The Black Snow, another lyrical Irish novel I recently read and loved, so I'm not sure why it grates on me in some books and not others. I haven't been put off reading anything else by Healy - maybe this book just didn't resonate with me. But I wouldn't recommend it either I'm afraid.

Rating: ★✰✰ (I liked it)


#15 Athena

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Posted 21 March 2016 - 09:06 AM

It's a shame this book wasn't as good as you'd hoped. The lack of speech punctuation marks would annoy me too. I hope your next Irih Countied read will be more enjoyable.

#16 Nollaig

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Posted 21 March 2016 - 10:38 AM

Thanks Gaia :) I've already finished the next one, I just have to write a review - and it was an absolute cracker. Loved it :)



#17 Athena

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Posted 21 March 2016 - 01:20 PM

That's good news :)!

#18 Nollaig

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Posted 22 March 2016 - 10:15 AM

Ignore - this a book I reviewed back in January before I started the challenge officially, so I forgot to include it.

 

County: Cork

Book: Spill Simmer Falter Wither - Sara Baume

 
Genre: Fiction/Irish Culture
Synopsis: "You find me on a Tuesday, on my Tuesday trip to town. You're sellotaped to the inside pane of the jumble shop window. A photograph of your mangled face and underneath an appeal for a COMPASSIONATE AND TOLERANT OWNER. A PERSON WITHOUT OTHER PETS & WITHOUT CHILDREN UNDER FOUR."  Part Kjersti Skomsvold, part Patrick McCabe, Spill Simmer Falter Wither is a wholly different kind of love story, a conversation almost entirely told from one side, that spans the four seasons echoed in the novel's title.

*** 

Review: I had heard a lot about this novel winning/being nominated for several awards, and was really excited to read it. It took me quite a while to pick it up, and so long to read it (despite its relatively short length) that it became one of my first finished reads of 2016 rather than one of the last of 2015.

It's not the kind of book you can rush a reading of; the prose is the entire point, as far as I can tell. It is truly beautiful; Baume writes masterfully and evokes an vivid sense of place and atmosphere with her words.  That said, I expected a story that would make me well up with emotion - there are many 'man and his dog' stories out there, and I think this is the first time one has failed to make me cry. The dog is so peripheral I almost felt like he didn't exist at all, and while the narrator, Ray, perhaps benefitted from the dog's presence, the dog seems little or not at all attached to Ray. Unfortuately, I felt the novel lacked heart. There is only the vaguest hint of a plot; any potential for a sturdy story giving way to reflective, retrospective monologues which, while interesting, are slow moving and largely uninvolving for the reader. By the end, I was indifferent to the only two active characters in the novel.

Additionally, I didn't understand the ending at all. That might be a failing on my part, but the combination of an unexpected twist in such a meandering novel and such an uneventful final ending - none of it worked for me. I found myself distracted from the beautiful prose by my confusion and ultimately came away feeling disinterested and disconnected from the rest of the book.

Worth reading for the pretty writing, but that's about it.

Rating: (I liked it)


#19 Nollaig

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Posted 22 March 2016 - 10:16 AM

County: Kildare

Book: The Herbalist - Niamh Boyce

 
Genre: Irish Culture/Historical Fiction
Synopsis: When the herbalist appears out of nowhere and sets out his stall in the market square he brings excitement to Emily's dull midlands town. The teenager is enchanted - the glamorous visitor can be a Clark Gable to her Jean Harlow, a Fred to her Ginger, a man to make her forget her lowly status in this place where respectability is everything. However, Emily has competition for the herbalist's attentions. The women of the town - the women from the big houses and their maids, the shopkeepers and their serving girls, those of easy virtue and their pious sisters - all seem mesmerised by this visitor who, they say, can perform miracles. The Herbalist is a riveting story about the shadow side of Irish life - the snobbery, the fear of sex, the tragedy of women destroyed by social convention and the bravery of those who defied it.

*** 

Review: What a fabulous book! When I was initially seeking out titles for my Irish Counties Challenge, this one immediately jumped out at me, both because of the synopsis and the beautiful cover. I'm delighted its lived up to my hopes for it. Short chapters alternate in viewpoints between several characters - mainly Carmel, Sarah, Emily and occasionally Aggie. Each girl or woman comes from a different background or place in society, and the day to day life of each becomes inextricably interwoven with the others over the course of the novel, resulting in a complex, multi-faceted illustration of life for women in 1930s Ireland.

In 1930s Ireland, maintaining (or failing to maintain) respectability by adhering to social convention was something that could make or break a woman and throughout the novel all of these women deal with potentially damning issues behind closed doors - often behind the Herbalist's doors. These days, while the judgemental nature of Irish society is not so overt or all-encompassing, a lot about this book actually feels very familiar -  the attitude to women, pregnancy, unwanted children and reputation is largely unchanged, although it is being challenged by modern debates over the persisting illegality of abortion in Ireland.

It is also an accurate depiction of a small town in Ireland, in which everyone knows everyone else's business and almost delights in gossiping about scandals - the only release for a repressed nation, another familiar association I make with my own small hometown. I'm no expert on 1930s Ireland, but this book feels very authentic to me - except, in hindsight, having read other reviews - the lack of a Catholic church presence in the form of a local priest seems like an unusual omission.

It is a gently-paced, slow moving story which is with soft, lyrical prose - difficult to believe it's a debut novel. Each of the characters is believable and nuanced, with a distinct voice that makes it easy to differentiate between narrators as they alternate from chapter to chapter. Though the novel meanders somewhat, it grows quite dark, moving in a direction that I should probably have seen coming (though I did not). Much in the way all gossip is whispered in these small communities, the author never outright states the details of what is happening, instead making observations from the perspective of our narrators and leaving the reader to fill in the gaps. What ultimately comes of this is a horrifying tragedy which is all the more horrific for never being spoken of.

Maybe a little slow to start, but don't let that put you off. An easy, though unsettling, and gorgeously written gem. I eagerly await Niamh's next novel!

Rating: (it was amazing)


#20 Nollaig

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Posted 22 March 2016 - 10:56 AM

Just as an aside to my contextless reviews - I am absolutely loving doing this challenge. Most of the books I've chosen so far have been depictions of some angle of Irish culture, contemporary or historical, and whatever poetic blood is in our veins is not limited to our poets and playwrights! Even the books I've been less keen on, like Dermot Healy's one, have still been an absolute pleasure to read because of the beautiful prose. I'm also really enjoying getting insights into Irish life in the 1930s, 1940s, and in urban versus rural settings even in recent years. It's amazing how many of the attitudes that were openly prevalent historically in Ireland, I can still identify as a young person in Ireland today.

 

I'm really looking forward to tracking down some reads based around the time of the potato famine, because that is something I know shamefully little about.






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