It's great to hear you're enjoying your challenge so much, Noll. I'm similarly enjoying my English Counties challenge enormously - I've read some fabulous books and authors I never would have read otherwise, and have found a rich new seam of writers to delve further into their work already and I'm only half way through.
Noll's Irish Counties Challenge
Posted 22 March 2016 - 06:39 PM
Thanks! Challenges of any kind are a great way to branch out, but it's even more fun when it links back into your own heritage, I think. How many counties are there in England?
Posted 22 March 2016 - 06:43 PM
Posted 25 March 2016 - 12:51 PM
Book: The Spinning Heart - Donal Ryan
Genre: Irish Fiction/Culture
Review: I'd been putting off both of Donal's books for a while now, and I'm not sure why. Perhaps because so many people have been raving about them that I was almost afraid I wouldn't like them. I needed haven't worried about this one, anyway. Each short chapter of this novel is told from the perspective of a different character living in a small Irish town. Through the 20 or so characters, a picture of life for individual people from different backgrounds slowly builds up, while we also get a broader picture of social life in a small town and the knock on effects of the financial collapse.
Donal definitely has an ability to capture every type of Irish character there is - more than once I found myself smirking at the perfect depiction of a thoroughly Irish trait - such as one woman bitching endlessly about a co-worker/friend for an entire chapter, and then adding that sure she loves her anyway. Other aspects of the Irish psyche are captured in a state of turmoil - men confused by emotions they've been taught never to express, young people facing the uncertainty of emigration and undefined futures. The reason that I loved this book is that the characters are so authentically Irish. It's impressive that Donal can both evoke so many distinct personalities in one book and also that he can convey them in a single chapter apiece.
The reason I gave the book four stars, rather than five, is that while I admired the characterisation wrought in these short chapters, I did not like the myriad perspectives as a narrative device. The plot was largely obscured by all the voices, and a few times it took me longer than it probably should have to work out who people were referring to. The two main dramatic elements of the plot both seem somewhat unlikely, and fairly undramatic as a result of being indirectly depicted. However, while I didn't think much of the plot, my problems with it didn't detract too much from my enjoyment of the novel.
Definitely going to check out anything else he writes.
Rating: ★★★★✰ (I loved it)
Posted 06 April 2016 - 08:05 PM
I'm enjoying reading your reviews, Noll. I'm glad you're enjoying the challenge.
I have just added The Herbalist by Niamh Boyce to my wish list - it sounds great!
Posted 06 April 2016 - 08:08 PM
Awesome! It's a great book, I hope you enjoy it if/when you get around to it
Posted 13 April 2016 - 03:11 PM
Book: Bogmail - Patrick McGinley
Genre: Irish Culture/Crime/Comedic/Mystery
Synopsis: In a comic Irish mystery worthy of Kingsley Amis or Peter Ustinov, Roarty, a pub owner, kills his teenage daughter's lover, drops the body into a bog, and returns to his pub, only to find he is the object of blackmailer's attentions.
Review: This book started off absolutely fantastically, and for a solid third of it I was convinced it was going to rack up five stars. It's darkly funny and beautifully written. The description of rural Irish landscapes found here I can only compare with the likes of Seamus Heaney - the first man to make me think of a bog as something that could be, if not beautiful, then something to be appreciated. I really liked Roarty - even though he is a murderer and I don't agree with him, his logic is darkly amusing and does not make him an unlikeable character. I liked many of the other characters too, as well as the insight provided into rural Irish life.
My biggest issue with this novel was that the focus seemed to shift almost indiscernably from being about Roarty, to being about his prime suspect, an Englishman spending a few months living in the area and attempting to integrate with the tightly knit local community. Potter's story revolved a lot more around a past relationship by comparison with a relationship he strikes up in the community, and comparing life in England with Ireland. Basically it bore no relation to the other main plot about a guy being blackmailed for murder. In the end, the blackmailing was only a minor feature with a very unsatisfying resolution.
Had this novel focus much more heavily on the actual bogmailer and Roarty, I think it could have been fantastic. As it was, it felt disjointed. That said, the writing was articulate, intelligent and often beautiful, so I haven't been put off trying another by McGinley.
Rating: ★★★✰✰ (I liked it)
Posted 13 April 2016 - 03:12 PM
Book: A Parachute in the Lime Tree - Annemarie Neary
Synopsis: April 1941, neutral Ireland. Kitty awakes in remote Dunkerin to find a German parachute caught in one of the trees in her garden. When she discovers Oskar, injured and foraging for food, he becomes a rare and exciting secret. But Ireland during the Emergency is an uneasy place, and news of the parachute soon spreads.
Review: I wanted so much to love this book, but it fell a bit short for me. Literally, I think being too short was actually the problem.
The three main characters didn't really have time to develop and then way too much time was spent giving a detailed epilogue for each of the stories we barely get a glimpse of to begin with. I also found the initial part, set in Germany, a bit of a slog. Once Oskar got to Ireland and Kitty and Elsa became more involved, I began to enjoy both the 'present day' settings and the glimpses into the pasts of Elsa and Oskar. I found Kitty and Elsa to be far more interesting than Oskar, though - while the book is pretty evenly split between three - I feel like he should have been the central focus and strongest character, tying the two girls together. A fourth character, Charlie, was likeable and tied in nicely with Elsa. I'd liked to have seen a lot more about the two of them.
I'm honestly not sure what else to say, about it. While it was enjoyable, an easy read, and interesting for the most part, it did little to convey the sense of life in either Ireland or Germany in that time period. I never really felt all that invested in the characters or story. By the end of it, I felt like I had read a broad first draft of a main plotline, before detail and subplots had been added.
Haven't been put off trying more by the author, but would love to see something a bit more substantial.
Rating: ★★★✰✰ (I liked it)
Posted 13 April 2016 - 03:13 PM
Book: Time Present and Time Past - Deirdre Madden
Synopsis: Fintan Buckley is a pleasant, rather conventional and unimaginative man, who works as a legal adviser in an import/export firm in Dublin. He lives in Howth and is married to Colette. They have two sons who are at university, and a small daughter. As he goes about his life, working and spending time with his family, Fintan begins to experience states of altered consciousness and auditory hallucinations, which seem to take him out of a linear experience of time. He becomes interested in how we remember or imagine the past, an interest trigged by becoming aware of early photography, particularly early colour photography. Time Present and Time Past, Deirdre Madden's eighth novel for adults, is about time: about how not just daily life and one's own, or one's family's past, intersect with each other.
Review: I'm afraid I may not have given enough time to this book. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I feel like if I read it again it may even go up to a four star rating. I read it pretty quickly, easy to read as it was, and it's possible I didn't fully absorb it.
There's no real point to this novel, I don't think, beyond an examination of the broader timeline of one's life, past and present, and how the former influences the latter and ultimately, the future. Fintan considers his past, his memories, and how, when revisited, things are not necessarily as we remember them. He also ponders the future, what will become of his children. Essentially, it's one guy feeling a little troubled by the idea of the 'bigger picture', something that seems a little like a mid-life crisis. There's no questions posed about this idea and no answers offered, is it merely stepping outside the box of 'here and now', a contemplation of where a small group of people have come from and where they will end up.
The characters are diverse and well-written, believable and typically Irish. It is entirely focused on the relationships between members of an extended family, and set in Ireland just before the economic boom. This 'present', this specific snapshot of typical, day-to-day Irish life is beautifully portrayed, gentle, interesting to read despite being largely unremarkable. I suppose the best way to describe this is a meditation on the concepts of family, memory and time, as experienced through the eyes of one ordinary man. This is the first book I have read by Madden, and I definitely want to read more - though I think I'll take my time with the next one.
Rating: ★★★✰✰ (I liked it)
Posted 05 July 2016 - 09:31 AM
Book: Solace - Belinda McKeon
Synopsis: Mark Casey has left home, the rural Irish community where his family has farmed the same land for generations, to study for a doctorate in Dublin, a vibrant, contemporary city full of possibility. To his father, Tom, who needs help balin
g the hay and ploughing the fields, Mark's pursuit isn't work at all, and indeed Mark finds himself whiling away his time with pubs and parties. His is a life without focus or responsibility, until he meets Joanne Lynch, a trainee solicitor whom he finds irresistible. Joanne too has a past to escape from and for a brief time she and Mark share the chaos and rapture of a new love affair, until the lightning strike of tragedy changes everything.
Review: Oh, this book. This book was beautiful. I bought it months ago, to represent Longford in my Irish Counties Challenge, but for some reason it took me until now to get around to reading it. I even started it, once, around the time of purchase, and then put it back down. Perhaps I was waiting until I was in the right frame of mind. This is a subdued, almost melancholic extract from the intersection of several familial lives - primarily between farmer Tom Casey and his PhD student son Mark. It uses the common Irish cultural theme of traditional older generations (particularly those rural, small-towns) clashing with the aspirations and modern progression of the young as a broad backdrop to the more specific ins-and-outs of life for the Casey family, from the lead up to massive changes in their lives through a tragedy into the aftermath. The slow-paced, gentle writing itself is a stark contrast to the events of the novel, and I think this makes those events oddly both more shocking, and also easier to process.
There were a couple of points in this book which made me cry - and I will note here that I was in a fairly low frame of mind reading this, so it was pretty easy to make me cry, and I think my heightened emotional state exaggerated the impact this book had. That is not to say that the book itself is not powerful, it is, but it is a book you have to be willing to wade into and immerse yourself in. At least one of the moments that made me cry was a tentatively happy one - a description of Mark and Joanne tucking themselves away at home from the miserable weather with a subdued, almost melancholic kind of contentment on New Year's Eve.
I feel like McKeon has an insight into how different people think, and even more importantly in novel-writing, an ability to wholly and accurately convey the conflicts and emotions of being human in an unpredictable, sometimes tragic world. I'm a little biased because this is an Irish novel, set in the rural farmlands of Longford and the bustling city of Dublin, contexts which are culturally, if not directly, familiar to me, and the lyrical pose combined with a lilting pace which talks about how the Irish never talk (definitely an Irish trait), but I like to think this book could pull anyone in. I wasn't overly mad about any of the characters in particular, but I felt this book is more driven by emotions than by the characters experiencing them.
I am absolutely dying to read her second novel, Tender. Also, look at that cover. The painting continues round the back cover to show Dublin city off in the distance. Beautiful. Highly recommended. The book, not the cover. Enjoy.
Rating: ★★★★★ (It was amazing)
Posted 08 July 2016 - 01:02 PM
Hello and thank you for the thread. I got interested in Irish literature a few years ago though so far I have not made much progress with it (you know, the usual stuff on the TBR list always interferes) except reading Dubliners and some of Oscar WIlde's works. Now, everyone and their mother knows about Joyce, Wilde, Becket since they are giants of literature on their own but I was wondering if any recent authors are worth checking out. Or maybe if you would consider anything from your list worthy of reading, for someone that is not Irish.
Posted 08 July 2016 - 01:16 PM
Hi Mr Cat! Thanks for stopping in That was the exact reason I started the challenge, to discover contemporary authors. I guess it depends on what you're looking for - a lot of what I'm reading is quite culturally thematic, dealing with life in historical Ireland, rural Ireland or traditional ways versus modern ways. Also depends on the writing style you'd like. Most of them are quite subdued, gently-paced and full of flowery language. Honestly. your best bet is to read my reviews to get a sense of the books.
Posted 14 July 2016 - 02:34 PM
Book: The Deposition of Father McGreevy - Brian O'Doherty
Genre: Fiction/Irish Culture
Synopsis: 'The Deposition of Father McGreevy' tells of the tragedy of a village where all the women mysteriously die. Father McGreevy struggles to preserve what remains of his parish, battling against the rough elements and the grief of his people.
Review: I discovered this book while compiling my list for my Irish Counties Challenge, and the synopsis had me really intrigued - particularly as it is set in my home county, Kerry. Unfortunately, it turned out to in no way resemble what I was expecting. I guess the hint was in the word 'shameful' on the back cover - I saw 'strange' and 'women dying' and expected some poignant tale of inevitability about disease destroying a village and way of life.
Nope. That happens early in the story, and aside from a lot of back and forth with the local clergy about the fate of the fading town, the actual events which led to the total destruction of a population whose reputation amongst nearby townsfolk was already in question, were a lot more.... well. I suppose I won't spoil it for you, but there is nothing interesting or exciting about it. It's kind of icky, actually, and at no point in this book do all the frequent ominous suggestions of impending disaster ever really manifest into anything other than a lot of misfortune and gossipy people. And I have to say, I dislike the stereotypical associations with Kerry people featured in this book, as well as the unjustifiable, lax attitude some characters have to what is going on.
I will say the writing is pretty good - while I didn't care much for the characters and not at all for the plot, in the end, it was well-written enough to keep me reading to the end without too much effort. All the same, not a book I'd reccomend to anyone. How it got shortlisted for the Booker Prize I'll never know!
Rating: ★★✰✰✰ (It was okay)
Posted 15 July 2016 - 09:54 PM
Posted 18 July 2016 - 08:32 AM
Forgot to paste this one in here - honestly, when I read an ICC book updating all the relevant threads/posts/lists is exhausting!
Book: Distress Signals - Catherine Ryan Howard
Synopsis: Did she leave or was she taken? The day Adam Dunne's girlfriend, Sarah, fails to return from a Barcelona business trip, his perfect life begins to fall apart. Days later, the arrival of her passport and a note that reads 'I'm sorry - S' sets off real alarm bells. He vows to do whatever it takes to find her. Adam is puzzled when he connects Sarah to a cruise ship called the Celebrate - and to a woman, Estelle, who disappeared from the same ship in eerily similar circumstances almost exactly a year before. To get the answers, Adam must confront some difficult truths about his relationship with Sarah. He must do things of which he never thought himself capable. And he must try to outwit a predator who seems to have found the perfect hunting ground...
Review: I actually picked this up, would you believe, not knowing it was written by a woman from the very county I live in! At first, my expectations were pretty low - the writing wasn't exactly accomplished, and I was afraid it was going to detract from my enjoyment of the book. Fortunately, either it got better, or I simply settled into the simplicity of it, because I forgot all about it after a while and just enjoyed the book. The beginning was a little bizzare to me, set as it is in Cork city itself, and mentioning the university campus where I studied and work, as well as the nearby cafe where I've sometimes gone for coffee, and later, the main police headquarters. You'd know a Cork woman wrote it - there were plenty of perfect descriptions of the place, such as the airport, built on a hill prone to fog - "in other words, a terrible place to build an airport" - which were as hilarious as they are accurate.
A notable feature of this book is the use of modern technology, such as Whatsapp - Adam is as perceptive as any woman about his girlfriend's use of the app. I will say there were a few flaws (Adam noted his messages to his missing girlfriend were not indicated 'read' by two blue ticks, but the fact is you can read your Whatsapp messages from your notification bar without them showing as 'read' in the app itself, which surely someone who didn't want to be found or make contact would do.) The other major flaw I found was Adam's reasoning. He seemed to make great leaps of tenuous logic, such as - who books a middle seat on a flight? Um, maybe someone on a packed plane? Doesn't inherently mean she's with someone...
Anyway, to get away from the specifics, this is actually a really fun, compelling read. I was genuinely unsure what happened to Sarah, and tore through the book to find out. Unfortunately, the ending really let it down, dropping the book down from a 5-star rating to a 4. The sub-plot needn't have been in the book at all, and I found the character motivations towards the end to be highly questionable. I sound like I'm being really hard on this book, but I did love reading it - it was great fun right up til the end.
Rating: ★★★★✰ (I loved it)
Posted 18 July 2016 - 08:44 AM
I should also put my non-reviews in here I suppose!
Book: The Third Policeman - Flann O'Brien
Genre: Flippin Surreal
Synopsis: Guy kills a guy and winds up going on an adventure in a weird land where bicycles are semi-sentient and causing problems for local policemen, who make no more sense themselves.
Review: Another non-review for a book I didn't like. Basically a greedy guy goes to steal a box of (possibly money) off a guy he killed, and he winds up in this strange nonsensical land, pondering in great depth the (stupid) theories of a fictional philosopher and discussing bike theft and weird things with a pair of policeman and his soul. Right.
I knew the twist before I went into it, and it was just as well because I never would have finished the damn thing if I hadn't thought there was going to be some great moment at the end revealing said twist. There wasn't.
Some of the writing is very good, and I actually thoroughly enjoyed the beginning and bits of the end - really spooky stuff - but most of it was the kind of illogical makey-uppy nonsense that irks me.
Rating: 2/5 (It was okay, in parts)
Posted 18 July 2016 - 08:48 AM
Book: Foster - Claire Keegan
Genre: Fiction/Irish Culture
Synopsis: A small girl is sent to live with foster parents on a farm in rural Ireland, without knowing when she will return home. In the strangers’ house, she finds a warmth and affection she has not known before and slowly begins to blossom in their care. And then a secret is revealed and suddenly, she realizes how fragile her idyll is. Winner of the Davy Byrnes Memorial Prize, Foster is now published in a revised and expanded version. Beautiful, sad and eerie, it is a story of astonishing emotional depth, showcasing Claire Keegan’s great accomplishment and talent.
Review: This is going to be a pretty short review, as I just don't have much to say about the book. I didn't initially realise it was so short - essentially it amounts to a short story, and I think it began life as such. I can see how - there isn't a huge amount of substance here. What there is, is lovely - but the emphasis is definitely on atmosphere and emotion, and on the passive observations of a girl sent to live with an elderly couple for a short period of time, rather than on any major plot.
While the writing was beautiful, and I would absolutely love to read a full novel by Claire, I didn't honestly see much point to this story. I feel like there was a point, buried, but barely touched upon. Something about a girl who is somewhat neglected in a massive family, who finds more love with a couple who lost their only child. Unfortunately, I didn't really feel anything for the unnamed main character, or her situation, as it was depicted in this story.
Maybe I just wasn't in the right frame of mind or something - I feel like the emotionally-weighted response evoked in me by Belinda McKeon's "Solace" is similar to what this story was meant to achieve, but it didn't. It was a quick, pleasant read, but not one that had any real impact on me.
Rating: ★★★✰✰ (I liked it)
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