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Mister Hobgoblin

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  1. The Queen of Dirt Island - Donal Ryan

    The Queen of Dirt Island is a bit of a curate's egg. Set in Nenagh, County Tipperary, in the 1980s. we meet Saoirse, her mother and her grandmother. The threesome live almost in defiance of the world around them. Soirée's mother has been cut off from her family - wealthy landowners - because she married the wrong sort. And widowed at a young age, she lives with her mother in law in a love-hate relationship. The situation os reminiscent of John McGahern - perhaps Amongst Women but perhaps even more That They May Face the Rising Sun. Just like a McGahern novel, there are hints and snippets of interesting lives, of scandal, but the focus is always more on the people than their deeds. And on the other hand, there are shared of Patrick McCabe's The Butcher Boy in the telling - heavily stylised almost to sounding like a folk story. This can bring a sense of something from the 1950s, perhaps even earlier, and the intrusion of more modern day references can feel rather jarring. So in total, this is a beautiful novel which is a magnificent technical accomplishment. Yet the story just doesn't feel quite enough to warrant such a rich and luscious telling. Some of the ideas in the novel - Dirt Island being the most obvious example - never feel quite fulfilled. The novel is short, but it still feels quite long in parts. Maybe I am not Donal Ryan's target audience; I feel as though I ought to enjoy his novels rather more than I do. ***
  2. Chasing Lions - Amanda Marks

    Loved this book. This is a memoir of a Dragoman tour leader who led overland tours through Africa for three years from 1988-1991. I am a travel junkie myself and have participated in overland travel, including with Dragoman. I have wondered how these adventures must feel from the tour leader perspective - very much working 24/7, but trying to have an adventure themselves. Amanda Marks pulls the curtain back, shows us that the tour leader is often only one step ahead of the tour participants, winging it and hoping the stars align. This was very much the early days of Dragoman - itineraries were flexible and arriving at destinations many days behind schedule was just part of the fun. It was also interesting to see the travel through parts of Africa that have since become off limits (the Algerian-Moroccan border) or fraught with difficulty (Zaire - now DRC, and the CAR, for example). It was also interesting to see the impact of leading these tours on family life and friendships - as Dragoman took over as a surrogate family. Amanda's experiences chimed in very much with the conversations I had with Dragoman tour leaders on my tours. The story telling is superb. Just the right blend of anecdote and scene setting. For seven hours, I was immersed in Amanda's world. I could feel the excitement at seeing lions and mountain gorillas, I could feel the slog of digging Huey (the truck) out of giant muddy ditches in Zaire, I could sense the celebration of the occasional meal at a restaurant that did not involve setting up the cooking station or flapping the plates dry at the end. I wondered whether this would feel hime-spun but it wasn't. Amanda's writing and story telling is fully professional - you'd think she had been writing all her life. I should also add that I 'experienced' this book through the Audible audio version. Amanda narrates the book herself and does it so very well. Her reading is every bit as engaging as her writing and the time slipped by without my noticing. This was a day spent in very agreeable company. At the time of writing this review, Dragoman on pause. I hope it comes back to life because it brought so much fun and adventure to so many people, taking them out of their comfort zone while providing some semblance of a safety net. This novel has made my already itchy feet that bit itchier. I cannot recommend Chasing Lions highly enough. *****
  3. Wake - Shelley Burr

    Wake is a solid Australian Noir. WAKE: Wednesday Addams killed Evelyn. Lane Holland is a small time private investigator chasing rewards offered for solving cold cases. He rocks up in Nannine, rural New South Wales, to see whether he can shed light on the disappearance of nine year old Evie McCreery over a decade ago. Evie disappeared in the night from a remote farm station. Only her sister Mina and the farm manager's wife were on site, and the site is larger than some small countries. Lane finds Mina McCreery, now grown up, still living at the station. Her father is away, the old farm manager and his wife kept on more from habit than from any real job of work to do. The McCreerys are rich and they have abandoned all pretence of actually farming the land. Mina says she is desperate to find out what happened to Evie, but not quite desperate enough to want Lane to come in a rake over the very cold coals. The story is taut. Both Lane and Mina have secrets that drive them in seemingly perverse directions. They barely trust one another, and in this small community, nobody trusts them. Their characters, and those of the supporting cast, feel real and complex. The setting feels authentic almost to the point that the reader can feel the dust blowing in the wind. The point of view shifts from Lane to Mina - and sometimes further afield - creating interest and suspense as the scene cuts away at the crucial moment. There are red herrings and blind alleys, there are sub-plots and history. The storytelling craft is really there and the novel is hard to put down. If there is a flaw, it is in an ending that doesn't quite feel satisfactory. There are loose ends and unanswered questions. Maybe that is part of the game - to keep the reader thinking - but sometimes a good journey needs a destination to match. Does that sound too cryptic? There have been a number of regional Australian noir novels in recent years; this one is up there with the best. ****