A good read chosen specifically for Cathy’s Reading Ireland 2021 (or the Begorrathon as its nickname!), Brian Moore seems to be one of the more well-known Irish-Canadian authors with a large backlist. I’ve only read two of his books (The Lonely Passion of Miss Judith Hearnes and this one) but they seem to overlap in terms of how Moore focuses on two rather outside characters, desperately lonely but unable to change their situations in some ways. (I wonder if his other books feature similar characters?)
The Feast of Lupercal* focuses on middle-aged Catholic male teacher Diarmuid Devine (or Dev) who is lonely, single and panics when he overhears a colleague refer to him as “that old woman”. Dev believes that his life is slipping away which makes him chase after a young Protestant girl who is 17 years than he is and who is on the rebound from a relationship with a married man.
Dev is socially and sexually inexperienced and these traits, combined with the overarching and controlling impact of his strong Catholic faith, mean that this relationship is bound with guilt and numerous other issues, none of which make life easy for Dev or for his girlfriend (if that is what she is in the end).
It’s rather a bitter look at how religion can be a negative for someone who has bought into it looking for answers. There is no indication that Dev will stop following these religious guidelines (despite the problems that arise from them) and it’s clear that Moore believes that individual freedom is more important.
It’s a well-written book, very gritty and a domestic drama. Just know that it’s not a particularly happy book and you’ll be fine.
The Feast of Lupercal was, according to Wiki, a pastoral festival of Ancient Rome observed each year on Feb. 15 to purify the city and promote health and fertility. It was also known as Februa (which gives rise to the name of the month of February). It also has a link with wolves as the actual statue of Lupercal was said to be in the same cave that Romulus and Remus were suckled by the she-wolf. (Romulus was thought to have founded Rome.) Well I never.
Wanting to join with Cathy’s Reading Ireland 2021 project (which also nicely aligns with my Focus-on-the-TBR project as well), I happened to come across this, the first in what’s called “The Barrytown Trilogy” by Irish writer Roddy Doyle. (The other two titles are “The Snapper” (1990) and “The Van” (1991).)
As described by the publisher’s blurb: Roddy Doyle’s winning trio of comic novels depicting the daily life and times of the Rabbitte family in working-class Dublin…
“The Commitments” is the first one in the list. And you know: I loved it. I think it was a reread (but only one that happened years ago pre-blog) but I know I loved the 1991 movie and its accompanying soundtrack. (I even dug up the soundtrack to remind myself of the group’s music. SO good.)
The plot features a small and scrappy group of young teenaged boys growing up in lower-class Dublin who join together to form a band focused on bringing soul music back to the city. They are led by Joey “The Lips” Fagan, who may (or may not) have a professional music background with Otis Redding and co., and who calls everyone his “brothers and sisters”. Regardless of his true experience, Fagan is the glue on the band (although not without some attitude from his younger charges).
And basically, this novel just tracks the life history of the young musicians. It’s written in 100 percent dialect and is heavily dependent upon a strongly-Irish accent delivering music lyrics but once I got into the read, the dialect ceased to be an impediment. I could just “hear” the boys as they bonded together (or not) working on their music and this was a great summary of the 1980s’ music scene for these kids.
Special note must go to three girls who are the back-up singers: they are hilarious and have the patience of saints to put up with these lads.
A very fast and enjoyable read.
Next: “The Snapper”, book two in the Doyle’s trilogy and a narrative arc that continues with some of the characters who starred in the first book. In the first volume, one of the girls (Sharon although her stage name is different) becomes pregnant and refuses to give up who the father is. Seeing as the story is set in Dublin, there is a big to-do about Sharon being young and unmarried/unattached and this volume tracks how the unintended pregnancy impacts her life and that of her family (especially her father, her “da”).
It’s a gritty and really-well-done close look at a Catholic family just trying to do their best with the situation, and although this volume is not quite as packed with such a heavy dialect as the first title, it’s still very Irish in how it sounds. I just loved getting a different perspective of some of the characters mentioned in the first volume and couldn’t put this book down.
And then, since I couldn’t stop reading this, I moved on to the final volume: “The Van”. I had no idea what this narrative plot would follow and learned that it’s an (even) closer look at Sharon’s Da and how, even though it might not turn out that great, the poor guy really does his best at being a good man for his family and for his friends.
“The Van” was also really funny in places and reminded me in some ways of Hardy’s “Under the Greenwood Tree” (review here) which also follows a middle-aging man and his friends as they live their lives and have their adventures. (It also made me crave some English chips since there is a lot involved with a local chip shop.) Honestly, I laughed out loud at this volume… Just loved it.
A second Trevor read for me (see review of Felicia’s Journey here), this was another tightly-wound narrative with wounded characters interacting with each other. (I wonder if this is a pattern with Trevor novels/short stories? I’ll have to investigate further.)
The plot revolves around the Davenant family and their big old house in which they have lived for several generations. Current inhabitants Thaddeus and wife Letitia (along with infant Georgina) have put a lot of money into renovations, funded chiefly by Letitia’s family money.
In fact, this financial resource was really what pushed Thaddeus into marrying Letitia, as he doesn’t really love her. In contrast, his emotional attachment to his daughter is a surprise to him since his difficult childhood did not prepare him for loving anyone and so Thaddeus is faced with new feelings to handle.
At the same time as the fairly recent birth of his daughter, wife Letitia is killed while riding in country lanes on her bicycle, and so Thaddeus not only has to handle his almost-overwhelming and surprising (to him) adoration of Georgina but also face his wife’s death (and his lack of feelings with regard to that).
Into the middle of this whirlpool of emotion arrives Letitia’s mother (Georgina’s grandma) who volun-forcesThaddeus into letting her live with him and Georgina in the house to “help” him parent the child. Prior to this arrangement, the family had been looking into hiring a nanny to help with childcare and so both Letitia’s mother and Thaddeus go ahead initially to interview three not-really-qualified young women.
It’s one of these three interviewees who really throws the spanner in the works for the small family. Both Thaddeus and Pettie, the young woman in question, have the same need to love little Georgina, but it’s expressed in very different ways and when Pettie commits a serious crime, things come to a head for both of these damaged adults.
It’s a tightly-wrapped narrative, like a noose that is slowly strangling you, and when another death occurs in the Davenant orbit, is it a chance for redemption? And if so, for whom?
Another good read from William Trevor. I wonder how his short stories are?… [Toddles off to the library – if it’s open due to coronavirus.]
This was my second foray into the literature of Molly Keane (also published under the name of M.J. Farrell during the 1930s) and this was another read from her that was a good experience whilst also being slightly prickly. (See review of Devoted Ladies  here.)
This novel, as implied by the title, is about the push-and-pull of tricky family relationships and how the central protagonist, at the start a young girl, tries her best to understand and adapt to the people who surround her. However, despite her efforts to be “loving and giving” (cue: title), the recipients of her intentions aren’t always responsive in predictable ways, and this was a little heartbreaking for me, as a reader, as I could see how this was slowly breaking this young girl’s heart (although the adults involved had no idea about this).
Nicandra, the lead character, is only eight years old and living in the isolated and rural world of a rather grand Irish estate called Deer Forest in 1914. Her life is organized and satisfactory. Her mother is beautiful and loved; her father distant and involved in running the estate; her Aunt Tossie walks about grandly in her widow’s weeds. But one day, her mother runs away and things change overnight for Nicandra.
Thrown into confusion and sadness (as of course no one has a conversation with her about her mother’s absence – them’s the times and place), Nicandra vows to make up for her missing mother by providing everyone left with lots of love and kindness. But things go rather awry.
The author was in her 80s when this was finished. decades after Keane’s other novels were published, but it’s clear that life has not softened the edges of her mind and how she handles her characters. This novel follows the sharpening of young Nicandra as her efforts to be kind are rebuffed and misinterpreted over the years and how these reactions shape her life in terms of loving and being loved.
It’s a sad novel in many ways and reflects how life doesn’t always turn out as glamorous as you would like to be. As the house falls into disrepair, so does the family break down, and then the ending of this novel was just fantastic. (Shan’t say anything about it, but believe me. It’s good.)
So, a prickly but enjoyable read. You don’t need to love the characters in a book to care about them, and this is ably demonstrated in this novel by Molly Keane. Another off the TBR pile (been there for years!) and read as part of Cathy 746’s Reading Ireland Month project. Thank you for the nudge to read this title!
I’ve decided to join in with Cathy (at Cathy746 blog) to read some books by (or about) Irish people or the country itself, and as a start (although it’s actually in its second week), I pondered to myself exactly how much Irish literature I’d read over the past few years.
(BTW, if you haven’t met Cathy yet, her blog is really interesting and all about Irish lit. She is one of its biggest cheerleaders in bookish circles, it seems.)
So, I went trawling through my blog posts and found quite a few. Most of these I have loved so I think you may as well. Have a nosie if you’d like:
Well, well, well. Summer school has started and is now halfway over, so that’s why there’s been a drop in posts the last fortnight or so. It’s very fun to teach but I must admit that it definitely eats into my day, what with grading, prepping PPTs, and general admin, so reading seems to have fallen off the last few days. It’ll pick up in two weeks (when summer school’s over). Phew.
Thought that this would be a good time to catch up with some of the more notable summer reading titles that I haven’t yet blogged about, so here you go. These haven’t been the only books I’ve read, but they are the books that have left an impression on me over the last few weeks or so.
I am becoming pretty interested in autobios and biographies, so as I was strolling through the library shelves, I was drawn to a short biography of children’s author, Richard Scarry. My twin was very interested in Scarry’s books when we were growing up and so I picked this version up. It wasn’t a heavy-duty serious solid biography, but more of a conversation or dialogue with some of the people who knew him so it ended up a pretty lightweight read which was fine, since I was a bit brain-dead at the end of the semester when I read it.
Then, I wanted to read from my TBR pile, so pulled a fairly recent buy for me called The Thrill of It All by Joseph O’Connor, mainly because of two things: it was about a (fictional) music group from the eighties and the book was partly set in Luton, which is a fairly nondescript quite industrial town near to where I grew up. It’s not a town that leaps to mind for many authors and so when I saw that O’Connor had chosen it, it immediately went on to the list.
It was a fun read that I gobbled down in just a few days and covers the life and evolution of a small group of friends who make up a band in their teenaged years and what happens to it (the band) and them as it evolves over time. Sad, funny – lots of great pop culture refs for those of us who came of age in that decade PLUS it kept mentioning landmarks that I had heard of. Well written story which kept me turning the pages. I’m on the lookout for more O’Connor (who’s actually a big Irish author so not sure why the attraction to Luton!)
That was followed with a rather ponderous effort at reading Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers on my kindle. I’m about halfway through it right now, but it’s been put down for a week or two so I’m hoping that I haven’t lost the impetus to finish that title before I forget all the characters and what they’re doing!
Since it was summer and my brain was on holiday for a bit, I wanted a quick read that was also well written, so picked up Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley Underground which was an enjoyable romp and also gave me lots of examples of good grammar examples to show in class. (I know. Strange but true.) Features more of Tom Ripley’s adventures and was just a good read overall.
Then I soldiered through a nonfiction by Jonathon Raban called Hunting for Mister Heartbreak. I’d really appreciated one of Raban’s other reads (called Badlands [no blog post] about North Dakota, I think), so was rather hoping to replicate that level of read. I’d also enjoyed a book by Raban called Coasting (when he sails in a small boat around the coast of UK)…
Hunting for Mister Heartbreak was set to be a good read, going by the narrative arc: English man travels around America trying to find the essence of American-ness in various places, from the Florida Keys to the Deep South and in between.
This book didn’t reach the same level of greatness that Badlands and Coasting did, though. I’m not sure why. Maybe this was an earlier volume and he hadn’t got his swing yet? There was quite a lot of him philosophizing about things in a rather superior way, and I think I just got tired of him judging the places and people who surrounded him. It just didn’t really come together and seemed more of a patchwork quilt just thrown together to create a bigger work. So-so, if you ask me, but another off the TBR pile, so that’s good. (I might be done with Raban now though.)
Then summer school prep and the semester actually beginning which has meant more time prepping for class and grading work. I have a really good bunch of students this semester – summer school students seem to be a different breed than the long-semester ones and I’m enjoying the experience – but it’s definitely crazy-fast-paced for us to fit all the material in. Then, when summer school finishes in a couple of weeks, I get another couple of weeks off to recover and plan for the fall semester and then the school year begins again. I just adore teaching! (I hope the students enjoy it as well. :-}
Sometimes I happen to pick up the perfect book to read for one reason or another, and Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn just ended up being one of those incredible experiences. I’d been having just an OK reading life lately – nothing too exciting (although the African-Am titles in Feb were great) – and was strolling around looking for a domestic novel of sorts: nothing that dramatic and with a good story about everyday lives with easily relatable characters. Brooklyn was a perfect storm of great reading for me, and, as you can probably surmise, I loved every minute of reading it.
It’s an Irish novel set in fairly recent times (mid-20th century?) with a young woman growing up in a small town with not much to offer her. Her family’s priest knows another Irish priest in Brooklyn who is willing to set her up with a new life out there in the already well-established Irish neighborhood and her parents feel that it’s an opportunity that she could not turn down. This novel follows that journey and protagonist Eilis Lacey as she travels forth into the great unknown and a new life.
Toibin is a well known Irish author (see review of his 2005 The Blackwater Lightship here), and after thoroughly enjoying my read of the Irish writer Edna O’Brien Country Girls trilogy of novels, thought this would be a good pick for now. Additionally, I’d just seen the really good film adaptation of Brooklyn the other day and after having really enjoyed that, thought I would do a brief compare-and-contrast (as you do).
So it’s a narrative arc that’s not really that thrilling when you look at it from a distance, but when you are immersed in Eilis’ life throughout the story, it was such a strong pull for me to continue reading to find out how things worked out for the characters. In fact, it was so strong that I ended up staying really late a couple of nights as I just had to find out what Eilis chose in the end. (And I’m a dormouse usually, sleeping-wise.)
I’m not sure what exactly was so perfect about this book. The writing was great, the narrative arc was strong (without being predictable), but I think it was the actual characters (especially Eilis and her friend Tony) who really pulled me back into the pages each time. I became so immersed in their story that whenever I did end up putting the book down (for sleep and life etc.), it was a struggle to not pick up the story at every chance that I could get.
It’s a great feeling to have such a connection with a book’s story and characters, so all praise must surely go to Toibin for inventing such characters and then writing about them in such a way that I was really pretty riveted for the whole read.
I know. This sounds a bit gushy, but if you’re looking for a REALLY good read, a read that sucks you in and then keeps you there (even when you’re doing something else), you may want to try Brooklyn. It will definitely end up on my list of favorite books for the year, and I’m jazzed to try more of his work now. It was longlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize and other big booky prizes, all of which it deserves if you ask me.
Found in a thrift shop one day, I picked this title up having some faint inkling of O’Brien’s name but no clear idea how that was so. I knew that she was an Irish author, and probably wrote gritty domestic drama type stuff which happened to be exactly what I was looking for… So I snapped that little baby up.
This was a good read. The plot was pretty typical (it seems to me) – a young rural Irish lass from a strongly Catholic family falls in love with an “unsuitable” man (much to her parents’ dismay). Then conflict arises (with an unintended pregnancy) leading to conclusion. (I’m not knocking the narrative – that was what I was looking for, actually.)
O’Brien writes lyrically about the Irish countryside which leads to an interesting comparison: the quiet and calm of the countryside vs. the high stakes drama of the young woman and her lover. Perhaps this was also a subtle reflection of control: being controlled by the church/being free to make own decisions, the push for women’s rights and the role of women in 1960’s Ireland, perhaps even the idea of Ireland chafing under English rule?
So – this was a good read. As I came to the end, I realized that this was Volume II in a trilogy (called “The Country Girls”) which follows the trials and tribulations of two young Irish friends. This was fine as a standalone and as a new reader, I didn’t feel lost at all with regard to the narrative.
Some background about O’Brien: according to Wiki, O’Brien is considered by some to be the “doyenne” of Irish literature, and the first volume of this trilogy was banned, burned and denounced by the Catholic Church of the time. After this, naturally, O’Brien left Ireland and went to London where she went on to write about the 1960’s taboos about sexual matters and social issues in her work, continuing to ruffle the feathers of the Church.
O’Brien herself was the youngest daughter of a very strict family – her parents were vehemently against literature (except, presumably, the bible) and this is reflected in the comment O’Brien made at one point, saying “Unhappy houses are a very good incubation for stories.” Knowing this and having read this second volume, I think it’s safe to say that this one was fairly autobiographical in places.
This was made in a film of the same name in 1964. Anyone seen it?
So, overall, I enjoyed this read and will probably search out more O’Brien work in the future.
(This post is a little early as I will be out of town tomorrow and thus unable to post. I realize how important my blog posts are for your general wellbeing and the smoothness of your day, so here you go for Wed’s edition. :-} )
So – catch up in my world of books…
Finished up The Blackwater Lightship by Colm Toibin which I almost dropped halfway through due to ongoing and deep confusion about the characters…
I finished it in the end and it was actually pretty good. (It was shortlisted for the Booker in 1999.) This is another Irish author with the story set in Ireland in the early 1990’s. A ruptured and dysfunctional family are thrown together when one of them is found to be dying of AIDS and they all reconvene at Grandma’s house for his final days.
It’s not an easy read – it’s actually quite an uncomfortable read really – but it is very good. Toibin liked to add unpredictable twists in how he explains the characters and as the story changes, so do the names of one or two main characters. Tricky at first but once I understood what was going on, I could pick up on it and enjoyed the sly word play.
For example, the grandmother of the family is called “Granny” for all the first third of the novel. When one of the brother’s friends shows up to help with his health care at home, suddenly the grandma is called “Mrs. So and So” whenever the scene links the friends and her. So when she has a conversation or interacts with these non-family people, she is referred to (by Coibin and his characters) as Mrs. So-and-So. When she’s interacting with her family, she is referred to by everyone as Granny.
So, it’s confusing but worth it when you work it out — like being a member of a secret club idea.
It’s a novel where “nothing much happens”, but with this one, it’s all under the surface. Beautiful writing, tough stuff, good read. I recommend it and I also recommend that you stick with it until at least after halfway. It’s worth the effort.
Additionally, I’ve been reading the 1963 edition of Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy. Ogilvy founded the worldwide ad agency, Ogilvy and Mather, and was considered the “Godfather of Advertising” back in the day. (Bit later than Mad Men if you know that show.)
Written 50 years ago, the advice is still golden and good to know if you’re in a communications field (which we all are as we communicate with other people all day every day in general). It’s written in bullet style, for the most part, and I’m enjoying being reminded of advertising “best practices” ideas and also learning new things.
Speaking of which, I’m learning Twitter (and how to) at work. I already FB, but needed something more immediate to reach our audience. I’ve finally jumped into the world of Immediate Social Media. Does anyone else twitter or Instagram or use any other tool? I’m always up for tips of the trade.
Update about the Ogilvy book: I couldn’t take its dated approach after a few more pages and its discriminatory advice, so I placed in the charity pile unfinished. Bah.
A title that was picked rather randomly off the TBR shelf, this was a great surprise read for me. William Trevor, described by Wiki as “one of the elder statesmen of the Irish literary world,” is famous for his short stories, but his back list is HUGE and so there are loads of different books to choose from. He’s won quite a few prestigious literary prizes (including the Whitbread Prize and has five nominations for the Booker Prize.) Irreverent sidenote: He sounds a bit like the Snoop Dogg/Lion of the Booker World.*
So – to the plot of this fast-moving and short book: Felicia is an unmarried and naïve Irish girl who ends up getting pregnant by a visiting no-good lad from her village who has moved away to England. In Felicia’s impoverished family, there are few options for her to follow, so she leaves Ireland to go to the Midlands to chase down this boy who, she is certain, would like to know she is pregnant and would do the right thing. Her family is against this lad from the get-go as her father believes that the guy has run off to join the British Army, and as they are extremely wound up in Irish Independence activity and history, this act means he has joined the enemy.
Along with this is the fact that the family is Roman Catholic and her father works at a convent in the garden, so options for her pregnancy are not available either. Poor thing – it’s a no-win situation for her all around, it seems, and so she visits England for the first time in secret – a foreign country for her as she has not traveled much before.
Aside from the facts that Felicia has little money, no friends, no housing, and a fake address for this boy of hers, it doesn’t look very hopeful. Then she meets Mr. Hilditch (always used with that title) who is a quiet nondescript middle-aged catering manager for a local factory near where Felicia is staying. He presents himself as a kind and rescuing father figure for her, but in his thoughts, the reader can see that there is a history of something weird. He has “rescued” girls before, but what has come of them? And will he do the same with Felicia?
This is a taut psychological novel about the hunter and the hunted: Mr. Hildich is the predator and naïve girls “who won’t be missed” are the prey. At the same time as this is happening, you also follow Felicia’s thoughts as she is scared and confused. She lives on the street for a few days, gets in with a rather strange but benign religious group who can give her a place to sleep, and she keeps being circled by Mr. Hildich, as a shark does bleeding seals. You just know that something is going to happen…. But what?
The ending comes quite quickly and it’s not what I had thought it would do. (I love this unpredictability in a plot.) There are a few major twists and in the end, things are left hanging unsolved really. (You’ll get the hanging ref when you read it. The plot also tightens as a noose would… )
Again, not sure where this title came from but thanks for the heads-up whoever it was. I loved its taut plot and believable characters. There will be more Mr. Trevor reads in the future.
Snoop Dogg/Lion has been nominated for lots of Grammy Awards, but has never been awarded one in 20 years. Kinda like Susan Lucci of the rap world.