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The Queen of Dirt Island - Donal Ryan


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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. 

 

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