With a tail-off in writing comes an opportunity to read a bit more. Ireland has a rich literary history and this continues through to the present day. I’ve been fortunate recently to read three separate and quite different novels which I review briefly below. You might find something to appeal to you.
The House Where It Happened – Martina Devlin
I always look out for Martina’s column in the Irish Independent where she is particularly hot on feminist issues. She is also an experienced author though this is the first one of hers that I’ve picked up.
Wouldn’t you know – I’m just about to launch a book which revolves around a house with a mind of its own but Martina has beaten me to it! But this is a much different work. It’s an historical novel set in the 1600s, on the peninsula of Islandmagee in Antrim in what is now Northern Ireland. Based on fact, and with diligent research, Martina weaves a tale of a house haunted and taunted by the spirit of the evil Hamilton Lock. It dwells on the apparent possession and witching of an innocent young woman and the subsequent denouncement of a number of local women as witches.
Cleverly written Ulster Scots dialogue give this story a unique flavour, seen through the eyes of the housemaid. The story grips through to the end until the evil is defeated. Or is it?
Keep Away From Those Ferraris – Pat Fitzpatrick
Nothing to do with cars and all to do with the seamier side of Dublin post-Tiger. The good times are receding rapidly and everyone is looking for a last payday before they disappear completely. Kidnap, extortion, sex. They are all there together with dollops of humour to remind you that nothing is serious about this book. Rather it can be seen as a parody of the Irish management classes that ‘lost the run of themselves’ chasing investments and property ever upwards.
The Mad Marys of Dunworley, and Other Stories – Paul Kestell
Ah now, here is an off-beat book that I really liked. It’s a collection of five novellas, each of them set in the small West Cork coastal village of Courtmacsherry, indeed in and around the same building.
Each of the stories is self-contained, telling of those who live in the village or who visit for a short while. The characters, the estuary landscape, the surrounding countryside are all described so that you can almost feel yourself there.
In St Joan the narrator is obsessed with the historical character and her dementia leads her to drastic measures when she imagines her misportrayed. Undercover is a strange affair when a reporter infiltrates what he believes to be an illegal brothel. I confess I didn’t quite ‘get’ the denouement here. The Richard Hanley Radio Hour continues a thread of insanity to hilarious effect, but shudders to a horrible end. The Fuschia Walk looks sensitively at the issue of celibacy and temptation among the priesthood.
Then we get to The Mad Marys of Dunworley. You’ll struggle to find Dunworley on a map but I remember it, maybe 50 years on, as a wild, Atlantic beach. Here the author sets the tale of the three sisters who would bathe naked and the young Downs Syndrome girl who meets their spirits many years later. Beautifully written.