No 493 Tatty by Christine Dwyer Hickey – review & giveaway #readingirelandmonth20

I’m kicking off Classic Irish novels week with a relatively modern classic, but a classic nonetheless – Tatty by Christine Dwyer Hickey.

Tatty by Christine Dwyer Hickey is this year’s selection for the annual Dublin: One City One Book during the month of April. A newly published edition, thanks to New Island Books, was launched last month with a new cover and the edition features a new introduction by writer Dermot Bolger.


Tatty is the story of one girl’s childhood as part of a Dublin family being slowly torn apart by alcoholism. Told in the second person, the reader first meets Tatty at the age of four and each of the corresponding 10 chapters covers a year of Tatty’s life as she tries to make sense of the world around her.

It is the 1960s and Tatty lives on an ordinary estate with parents and her siblings, who include Deirdre ‘the special child Holy God sent to us because he loves us so much’. Money is a worry. Space is a worry and Deirdre is a worry, but the biggest worry of all is the growing presence of alcohol and anger in their daily lives.

The child’s real name is Catherine, but her nickname, Tatty, comes from her constant need to tell the truth which not everyone approves of. One day, her father briefly loses her while he is drinking at the races. She tells her mother what happened and the name sticks.

Dad said, Yes you are so, you’re always telling, you even told when you were lost at the races.

No I did not, I said I wasn’t lost.

Big tell-tale-tattler. Tell-tale-tattler. You’re not my pal anymore. You’ll have to stay home with Mam in future

The strength of the book comes from Dwyer Hickey’s mastery of Tatty’s voice, allowing the reader to ascertain what is happening both through what the child is telling us and what the child cannot understand.

Maybe weeks, maybe months; they won’t speak again until after they’ve had the second big fight…Unless something really big happens first, like if somebody dies, your Granny maybe or Dad’s best friend. Or somebody has to go into hospital: Jeannie if her asthma gets too bad; Brian if he falls off the roof; Mam if she takes too many tablets by mistake.

Each year there are subtle shifts in perception as Tatty realises that her family is not quite like other families. As her voice develops, so too does her understanding of the pain her parents are visiting on each other and on their children. Her need to tell tales evolves into a need to tell the truth, the truth of the situation at home that is spiralling out of control.

Following a particularly harrowing incident with her mother, Tatty is sent to boarding school and it is here that she begins to flourish and understand that her life does not have to follow the same path as that of her parents, yet despite her happiness at school, the influence of home is still felt.

Laura would be here, Olivia too, probably full of their Christmas news, day by day, inch by inch. All of it true. Her own truth was starting to feel so heavy in her head, packed in tight like the stuff in her suitcase. She wished she could tell them, take everything out bit by bit. She wished she could tell them. But couldn’t think how.

Tatty could be read as a period piece of Dublin in the 1960s and 1970s but it transcends this setting to become a timeless and evocative portrait of a family in turmoil. It is also surprisingly funny, particularly in the early pages when Tatty unintentionally misreads situations.

It is also a very powerful depiction of life lived through dependency, but Dwyer Hickey never judges her characters. As seen through the eyes of Tatty, the situation is humanised. She is a disarming and dignified character and as such dignifies even those who do their worst to her through her unerring ability to love and to forgive.

This mosaic of childhood memories comes together to create a painful, emotional and ultimately believable portrait of life lived in the shadow of substance abuse and how that life can be navigated with humour and with hope.

Read on: Book

Number Read: 254

Number Remaining: 492

This week, I will be giving away a copy of this new edition of Tatty. To enter, simply comment below or post on Twitter and tell me your favourite book with a childhood narrator or about childhood (it doesn’t even have to be Irish!) and I will draw a winner on Sunday 15 March.

As always, I will post internationally.

PicMonkey Image copy


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32 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I haven’t read Tatty yet, so this is exciting! A unique childhood perspective: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. .


  2. i really loved reading Room by Emma Donoghue! she does such a grear job at crafting a subtle, believable but still engaging child’s perspective 😊


  3. This sounds like a very memorable book. I’ve read several works narrated in the second person recently and I always find it fascinating. I’ve also read a number of memoirs of childhood recently, but the one that stands out the most is To the Is-land by Janet Frame.


  4. Thank you for this. Tatty sounds as if it needs to be added to my TBR list. My favourite book with a childhood narrator and probably one of my top five novels ever is Niall Williams ‘History of the Rain’. It was longlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2014 :
    “The basis of the Philosophy of Impossible Standard is that no matter how hard you try you can’t ever be good enough. The standard raises as you do.”

    So relatable!


  5. Christine Dwyer Hickey’s writing is so good, isn’t it. One of those quietly brilliant writers that doesn’t seem to get the attention she deserves in Britain. I hope she does in Ireland.


  6. Tatty is such a great novel! I’m glad its getting the extra attention of being the One City One Book choice. Child narrators are so hard to get right but I loved Tatty’s voice. I won’t enter the giveaway to give more chance to someone who hasn’t read it yet, but my favourite child (young adult, I’m cheating slightly) narrator is Cassandra in I Capture the Castle.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What a great book this sounds. My all-time favourite story told through the eyes of a child is What Maisie Knew by Henry James. I read this years ago and again quite recently and it still amazes me how he so cleverly speaks with the voice of Maisie who is unaware of what the events happening around her signify, but we, the readers, know too well what’s going on. It’s a beautiful book. When writing my ‘great novel’ I tried to do something similar but it just didn’t work. Guess I’m not the sort of genius who can write like this. Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to win the book and I can learn something from Christine Dwyer Hickey’s writing.


  8. This does sound harrowing, I find reading about children growing up in difficult situations really hard. Though it sounds like Tatty’s life starts to go in the right direction when she goes away to school.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I looked for this title at the library, but it’s not on the shelves. On to my list, it goes. Good childhood book: either Cider w Rosie (Lee) or A Girl Named Zippy (Himmel)…


  10. I read Tatty years ago and loved it, so I’m pleased to hear it’s now getting a wider audience via zone City One Book. I’ve read a couple of Dwyer-Hickey’s novels and have enjoyed them all. She deserves wider recognition outside of Ireland, I reckon.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’ll suggest a short story, The adventures of Cuffy Mahoney by Henry Handel Richardson, author of the trilogy often referred to as The Great Australian Novel. To quote from my own review:
    Cuffy Mahony is one of the great creations of Henry Handel Richardson. While he is not the focus of The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, he is an unforgettable presence towards the end of the trilogy as he struggles with guilt and embarrassment when he walks with his demented father in the town. The short story which gives this collection its title follows Cuffy’s ‘fortunes’ after the death of his father, and it’s an ironic title, hinting at the small adventures of a normal childhood but delivering a very different tale.
    PS I’m reading Last Stories by William Trevor, and will be writing my review soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This sounds like an excellent example of where focusing on the personal (one girl’s childhood) can convey a story with a much broader relevance or meaning. I keep hearing great things about this author across the literary blogosphere. As you say, let’s hope the One City, One Book initiative raises her profile amongst the wider reading public.

    (PS No need to enter me in your very generous giveaway as I’m trying to keep a very tight rein on my TBR these days!)

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Would love to read Tatty! Thanks for your generous offer to post internationally to the winner.
    My favourite book about childhood is one I read as a child, and many, many times in the six decades since: The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright.


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