Banville is a superb writer, a Booker Prize winner. This book is a mystery, so the key elements are time (early 1950s) and place (Dublin and Northern Spain). Banville writes beautifully descriptive phrases; a character is described by “petulance was a pastime”. With such good writing, the plot exposition becomes subtle and effortless – very enjoyable.
Two near 60-year-old men meet in Dublin pubs to reminisce, so this is the epitome of a “guy” book. Early in the book it is stated: “There is a reason why men do not talk about their feelings. It’s not just that it is difficult, or embarrassing. It’s almost impossible. The words aren’t really there.” And yet, Joe wants to share a secret; Davy listens and withholds a personal secret. What follows is an inarticulate but profound examination of friendship, memories, and mortality, and love in many forms. This is Doyle at his best.
Not surprisingly, this is another superb historical fiction story by Ms. Donoghue, a writer who never fails to entertain. Dublin in 1918 is suffering the ravages of the Spanish flu pandemic. The story follows three women over just 3 days in a small Maternity/Fever ward: a nurse, volunteer, and physician. There is impeccable medical detail. But the dominant theme is hopelessness – an inability to effectively treat influenza patients with an over-arching issue of mistreatment of orphans and children of unwed mothers by Catholic residentials schools/homes. Highly recommended but be prepared for some profound sadness.
This is a superbly-written relationship book. The story covers four years in the lives of Connell and Marianne, one year at high school in the west of Ireland followed by University at Trinity College in Dublin. Rooney’s writing illustrates perfectly that relationships are complicated even between two people with undeniable chemistry, complications by miscommunication and misperception of feelings. There is also emotional paralysis by expectations of inadequacy and not belonging. Connell and Marianne are very different people from different backgrounds, resulting in feelings of isolation and disconnection. This is a great book, better than her first book Conversations With Friends.
This is Ms. Kent’s second novel; her first was the excellent Burial Rites. Her two books have two characteristics: they are about women, and feature impeccable historical research. The Good People takes place in Ireland in 1825-26. The story is about the conflict between folklore and the emerging modern world of religion and law. The practice of folk knowledge to counter-act the actions of evil fairies leads to superstition, and gossip become malicious. All the characters are rich and compelling: an old crone, a grieving widow, a young maid, and an afflicted child thought to be a changeling. The story is both bleak and beautiful; highly recommended.
An astonishing book: the seduction by an evil person, the desperate lives of the displaced and dispossessed. The title refers to a 2012 commemoration of the siege of Sarajevo: 11,514 red chairs were placed in rows, one for each person killed in the siege that lasted for almost 4 years. What is remarkable about this book is that it is an Irish woman, Fidelma, who is the central core to the story which takes place in Ireland and England. Thanks Mike, for this recommendation.
Another superb mystery thriller in the Dublin Murder Squad. The procedural detail in staging an interview, for example, is fascinating. But the best feature of this novel is the description of the head-space of Detective Antoinette Conway, the only female in the Murder Squad, so she is faced with Prime Suspect-like intrigue from the good-old-boys. French is a great crime writer; all her books are highly recommended.
Set in Ireland in the 1860s (not long after the famine), this book provides impeccable detail into an investigation into a fantastical claim that an 11 year-old girl hasn’t eaten for four months: a miracle or a scam? The investigation requires close observation (24/7) and as Margaret Mead postulated long ago – observation changes behaviour. One of the observers is an English nurse, so there are Irish-English issues as well. There are strong religious overtones but at its heart, this is a story about motherhood (so in that regard, somewhat similar to The Room). Donoghue is a fabulous story teller, nominated for the Giller.
Urquhart writes exquisite books: The Underpainter, The Stone Carvers, A Map of Glass, etc. This great new book is mainly set in the SW of Ireland (County Kerry) in the 1940-50s. The characters are vivid: two Irish brothers, an Englishwoman who eventually moves to Ireland, and a Canadian mural painter. A beautiful part of the book describes a prolonged fog delay in Gander Airport which allows detailed contemplation of a mural. There is much discussion about art and love, and even a bike race in the beauty of Ireland. This is one of my best reads of 2015.