My planned reading for Reading Ireland Month has come to an end, but I have been reading a few other books by Irish authors this month.
Here are some of the books that didn’t get their own post!
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
I had been resistant to this book for so long (comparisons to Sally Rooney didn’t help) but I finally read it thanks to recommendations by bloggers whose opinion I trust and I’m glad I did.
Set in Hong Kong, Exciting Times is ostensibly the story of a love triangle. Ava, a worker class Dubliner befriends Julian, an upper-class English banker and soon moves into his plush apartment where she lives rent-free. A sexual relationship develops yet both seem to be continuing for convenience rather than emotional connection. While Julian returns to London on a business trip, Ava Meets Edith, a Hong Kong native who is just as posh as Julian, but who stirs Ava’s complex emotions. On Julian’s return, the entire situation comes to a head.
Ava is a fantastically entertaining narrator, all snark and self-doubt. Exciting Times is a confident debut exploring class, sexuality, language and place with a wit and sharpness that is irresistible.
The Butchers by Ruth Gilligan
Set during the BSE crisis of 1996, Gilligan’s book is one that sounds very strange but really delivers.
Gilligan has centered her compelling and poignant novel around an ancient curse which warns that if eight men do not touch every cow in Ireland as it dies, pestilence will fall upon the land. A group of eight butchers travel across Ireland, from farm to farm, slaughtering cattle by hand for the dwindling number of believers. Told from the alternating viewpoint of several characters, The Butchers wraps up a convincing twenty-year-old mystery, in an evocative depiction of the Irish landscape and a convincing exploration of the clash between superstition and modernity.
Inventory by Darran Anderson
Inventory is Darran Anderson’s exquisite memoir of growing up in Derry in the 1980s, told through short chapters which relate to an object from his childhood. Each object stirs a memory or observation which is then tethered to the reality of his youth.
As a motif for a country that is so caught up with symbols and emblems, it is an effective trope and brings an flowing and almost dream-like structure to such a personal, yet universal story. Inventory is a generational history of one family, but also of a city and the river which flows through it and I was both impressed and incredibly moved by Anderson’s clean, graceful prose and heartfelt, at times searing honesty.
Redder Days by Sue Rainsford
I really enjoyed Follow Me to Ground, the debut novel from Sue Rainsford when I read it this time last year, but I didn’t get on with her follow-up just as much.
Twins Anna and Adam live in an abandoned commune in a volatile landscape where they prepare for the world-ending event they believe is imminent. Humans have been infected with ‘the redness’ and the twins keep watch for strangers and carry out the rituals that they have been taught by commune leader Koan, who still exerts control over them despite being bed-ridden.
Rainsford excels at world-building and her creation of this world-ending infection and the rapture that will come to save those remaining is undoubtedly imaginative and poetically written. However, I just found the narrative too esoteric and couldn’t fully engage with any of the characters. The book is certainly interesting and Rainsford has a unique literary voice, but this one just wasn’t for me.
The Art of Falling by Danielle McLaughlin
I was blown away by Danielle McLaughlin’s debut collection of short stories Dinosaurs on Other Planets and was very keen to read her first novel The Art of Falling as I do love a book set in the art world.
Nessa McCormack is trying to get her life back on track. Following her husband Philip’s affair, family life is returning to normal and they are working on their marriage. They have a beautiful home, which Philip as an architect redesigned, but debt is an issue as their house was remortgaged and the money lost in poor property investments. However, their sixteen-year old daughter Jennifer is improving at school and Nessa is happy in her job. She is excited to be in charge of a retrospective art exhibit for one of Ireland’s most enigmatic but popular artists, the late sculptor Robert Locke, whose work Nessa has loved for years. The sudden arrival of two unexpected people into her life threatens to through everything off course. A chance meeting with an old friend threatens to expose secrets from Nessa’s youth, while a strange woman has come forward, claiming to be the true creator of Robert Locke’s most famous work, the Chalk Sculpture.
The Art of Falling showcases again McLaughlin’s thoughtful prose and believable characterisation. It does get a bit plot-heavy in the middle section, but overall this is a gripping debut novel set in the art world that explores profound truths about love, power, and the secrets that bind us. The Art of Falling explores the nature of the lies that we tell ourselves and is a slow-burning portrait of lives that could crumble at any moment because they are not founded in the truth.
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!