Blackmoor by Edward Hogan

This is a beautiful book, full of a sense of old magic muddled brilliantly into the mundane of the present.

Though the book’s title is the name of an old mining town, a close-nit community hit hard by the collapse of the coal industry and eventually forced to relocate due to the unstable nature of the land beneath it, the story is also about George, Beth and their son, Vincent. Continue reading

The Dark by John McGahern

Our protagonist, only ever named Mr. Mahoney and usually not referred to by name at all, is a young man trying to make his way in the world.

His mother died when he was young leaving him alone with his sisters and father. His father is morose, beats his children and bemoans his hard labour on the land and their poverty.

The boy wants to be a priest, at least he wants to escape this world of his father’s making.

He wins a scholarship to a local school and then another scholarship to study at the university, all the time working through his complex feelings about the world and his place in it. As life throws different situations in his way, he learns not only about himself, but about the world outside of his father’s home. These experiences cast his home in a new light.

The Dark is recognisably Irish. There is something Joycean about it. In theme as much as in style: the son struggling against a boorish father; the meticulous play with style. For as well as precise language, a studied and emotive use of the passive voice, there is also a playful use of point of view. Continue reading

Fred & Edie by Jill Dawson

I really enjoyed this novel.

Based on real the real lives of Frederick Bywaters and Edith Thompson who were convicted of murdering Edith’s husband in 1922, Jill Dawson uses newspaper cuttings, historical records and extrapolated versions of Edith’s letters to present the history of Fred and Edie as Edith might have experienced it.

Aside from the historical documents, the novel is mostly written from Edith’s point of view, in the first person. Her account includes letters and diary-like entries about her affair with Fred and the death of her husband. The novel suggests she had no hand in plotting her husband’s death and that the letters read in court were carefully chosen to imply her guilt, withholding other letters that could provide alternative interpretations. I say suggests because Edie is mostly writing letters to Fred and in case the letters are read by others, or her other prison writings are, she doesn’t refer directly to specific events, leaving the accusation that she tried to poison her husband denied but only indirectly explained by her need for drugs to terminate her implied pregnancy.

Certainty of events is not something the novel offers. Instead Fred & Edie carefully unpicks the emotional climate of the time. Exploring Edie’s feelings enforces an exploration of society. Continue reading

The Web of Belonging by Stevie Davies

Jess takes care of her husband’s elderly relatives. His aunt, then his mother, and finally his uncle all live in Jess’s family home under Jess’s competent care.

Then, one night, her husband Jacob goes to the pub and never comes back. Did something happen? Did he have an accident? Where is he?

As Jess’s happy life of devotion begins to unravel, so does her sense of self. She felt happy, she was certain she was living the right god-filled life, but was she simply complacent, taking her husband’s care as read, devoting herself to him and his family as a way out of recognising the loss of being able to bear children? Did she devote herself to him in the way she should have devoted herself to God? Was she really suffocating, self-righteous, prim? Continue reading

The Girls by Lori Lansens

This isn’t The Girls currently most obvious in all the lists and bookshop shelves. That The Girls by Emma Cline I reviewed back in May. This novel is the autobiography of two girls, conjoined craniopagus twins, born during a tornado in Baldoon County, Canada, just the other side of the American border.

The autobiography is Rose’s idea. She is the writer. But she gets her sister, Ruby to write some contributing chapters and as the narrative develops those chapters grow in number and offer a different insight into the girls’ lives. Continue reading

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Kathy H was lucky enough to grow up at Hailsham. After fourteen years as a carer to various donors around the country, she is spending more and more time reminiscing. She thinks of her childhood, the Hailsham estate, guardians and friends. She tries to understand what her life and the lives of her friends have all meant.

She has two particularly special friends, Tommy and Ruth. Ruth is brazen and popular. Tommy is brooding, good at sport, prone to angry outbursts. Continue reading