Announcing Reading Ireland Month!

 

It’s that time again! March is coming, my favourite month in my blogging calendar, because it’s Reading Ireland Month – will you be joining us?

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Ah, gwan, ya will!

Wherever they went the Irish brought with them their books, many unseen in Europe for centuries and tied to their waists as signs of triumph, just as Irish heroes had once tied to their waists their enemies’ heads. Where they went they brought their love of learning and their skills in bookmaking. In the bays and valleys of their exile, they re-established literacy and breathed new life into the exhausted literary culture of Europe. And that is how the Irish saved civilization.

Thomas Cahill

By now you’ll know that Ireland is about so much more than shamrocks, St. Patrick and leprechauns. For a country the same size as South Carolina, it packs a hefty cultural punch. Ireland has produced four Nobel Prize winners; five Booker Prize winners; some world dominating musicians; a host of Oscar winners (and another nominated for this year’s awards) and a leading action hero from Ballymena.

We have the best pint in the world and the most stunning coastline – you could even say it’s in a galaxy far, far away.

Last year we hosted a whopping 130 posts on all things relating to Irish culture. Books, food, travel, movies, theatre and favourite bookshops – your enthusiasm was boundless and so was your reading.

So this year we hope to be bigger and better.

To celebrate the wealth and breadth and general awesomeness of Irish cultural life, 746 Books and Raging Fluff are co-hosting a month long celebration of all things Irish.

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Reading Ireland Month (or The Begorrathon as it is affectionately known) will feature book and film reviews, poems, music, interviews, giveaways and much, much more. This year I’ll be looking at female Irish Crime Writers, celebrating World Poetry Day with some new Irish Poets and compiling a list of 100 Novels by Irish Woman Writers.

We’d love for you to join us!

To be Irish is to know that in the end the world will break your heart.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Grab our new badge and put it in your sidebar and get planning your Ireland themed reading or viewing. Like our Facebook page here and then between 1 and 31 March, post as much as you like about any aspect of Irish literature and culture – anything at all!

Read this year’s One City One Book choice Echoland by Joe Joyce. Post your wheaten bread recipe. Make a list of your favourite Irish books or movies. Eat a packet of Tayto crisps. Read a book by a female writer from Northern Ireland to support Women Aloud NI.

Ireland more last

Watch Game of Thrones and marvel at our countryside. Read some of last year’s award winning new fiction from Mike McCormick (Solar Bones) and Lisa McInerney (The Glorious Heresies). If you’re feeling brave, read Ulysses. Dress up as Mrs Doyle from Father Ted and take a selfie, whatever it is we don’t mind!

 

As an added incentive, everyone who posts during Reading Ireland Month will be entered into a draw to win a copy of the beautiful Irish literary journal The Winter Pages, edited by Kevin Barry.

We’re not big on rules so the ones we have are pretty straightforward:

  • Put a link to your post on our Facebook page and we’ll be sure to share it
  • Link to our master post on either of our blogs: FOR POSTS ABOUT POETS, PLAYWRIGHTS and AUTHORS, link back to Cathy at 746 Books
  • FOR POSTS ABOUT FILMS, MUSIC, TV or ANYTHING ELSE, link back to Niall at Raging Fluff
  • Watch our Reading Ireland Month trailer to give you some ideas for what to watch, read, eat or drink
  • Join the craic on Facebook
  • Check out the list of 100 Irish Novels on 746 Books blog in case you need some help choosing a book
  • Don’t forget to tweet about your post using the hashtags #readireland17 or #begorrathon17

We can’t wait to hear what you are planning. Have you any books or movies lined up? Any new authors or old favourites you might visit during March?

It’s going to be some craic….

 

More than loud acclaim,

I love Books, silence, thought, my alcove.

Pangur Bán Poem by Anon Irish Monk, Translated by Seamus Heaney

A 3rd Birthday and a Giveaway!

Today is my Blogversary!

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Yep, it’s been three long years since I counted up all those books, almost had a heart attack and planned to cut down the TBR.

So, it’s another year done and how far on am I? I’m so close to the 500s I can taste it! Hopefully by the end of the year I’ll have reached that milestone. 146 books in 3 years isn’t great, but it’s better than the pre-blog days and if I keep up the momentum, 746 books will be done and dusted by 2028. Go me!

Despite having made it through another year without buying myself a book, I have acquired books through other means. My use of Net Galley has risen and I did receive quite a few books from publishers this year. I have tried to stick to my (very loose) rules and only read new books by Irish writers, but this little habit has definitely slowed my progress in my challenge. I may have read 71 books this year, according to Good Reads, but I only reduced the 746 by 47.

Reading aside, I’ve had another great year on the blog. According to my friends at WordPress, I’ve had over 23,000 views and 11,500 visitors. I was also delighted this year to pass my 1,000 follower mark, so thanks to you all for continuing to read.

Highlights this year have been the second annual Reading Ireland Month back in March which generated over 100 posts.

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Plans are already afoot for 2017, which I will again be co-hosting with my pal Niall of Raging Fluff fame, so if you have any books by Irish authors lurking in your TBR why not save them until March and join in the craic. This year I’ll be focusing entirely on Irish women writers, but there will be lots of other fun posts and giveaways.

20 Books of Summer also went down a treat this year, with over 120 fantastic bloggers participating and as a bonus, I actually managed to read all 20 of my books! This feature will certainly be back in 2017 as it gives my reading a real kick up the butt mid-year!

Once again I was delighted to make the finals of the Irish Blog Awards for the best Books and Literature blog – getting that far never ceases to amaze me! Plus I clearly take every opportunity throughout the year to show off about it….

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On a personal level, 2016 has been both a difficult and an amazing year. Since this time last year I had the real pleasure of interviewing Nuala O’Connor and Dame Fiona Kidman for the Belfast Book Festival and of course, I started a new and wonderful job at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Bellaghy. Leaving the job I had done for 17 years was frightening and daunting, but I have to say that I have never been happier. I adore my new job, surrounded by books, poetry and writers all day; it feels like it was made for me!

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The intensity of my new position and some health issues this year meant that I haven’t blogged as much as usual. I am trying to rectify that and make some time for this lovely little corner of the blogosphere I call home and I just hope I can continue with the same enthusiasm next year.

I’ve never really been one for a year round up, but this year I am picking my five best reads of 2016. Of course, these haven’t been published in 2016 but you all know what I mean!

  1. The Republic of Love – Carol Shields

For sheer enjoyment, Carol Shields wonderful, heartwarming, sprawling tale of love in all its forms tops my list of the year. I didn’t read another book that made me as happy as this one.

  1. Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf

I didn’t get to join in with Heaven Ali’s Woolfalong as much as I would have liked, but I am so delighted that it nudged me to read this luminous, wonderful book, that was everything I hoped and more

  1. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha – Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle makes it into my Books of the Year list for the second time. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha was nothing like I imagined. It was simply magnificent.

  1. The Rose Garden – Maeve Brennan

Maeve Brennan was my author of the year, with both this collection of spiky short stories and her wonderful novella The Visitor. She’s undergoing a bit of resurgence here in Ireland and next year I plan to read her biography by Angela Bourke and her collected works from the New Yorker, which have just been published by Stinging Fly

  1. Behind the Scenes at the Museum – Kate Atkinson

Can Kate Atkinson do no wrong? Ruby Lennox stayed with me long after I closed this book which is wonderfully plotted and beautifully uplifting.

I’m looking forward to a positive 2017. With Reading Ireland Month and 20 Books of Summer planned, I also hope to start a feature called ‘The Books that Built the Blogger’ where my favourite bloggers chat about the books that made them into the readers and bloggers they are today.

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Each month I plan to chat about a book which has formed and influenced my reading life as well. If you’d be interested in taking part, drop me an email, I’d love to hear from you.

Finally, as it’s a birthday and a birthday needs presents, I’m hosting a little giveaway today. Up for grabs is a paperback copy of Mike McCormack’s critically acclaimed one sentence novel ‘Solar Bones’

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Winner of the Goldsmiths Prize and Novel of the Year at the Irish Book Awards this year, Solar Bones has been called ‘an extraordinary hymn to small town Ireland’ by The Guardian. To win a copy, just comment below. I’ll draw a winner on Monday 12 December and will post world-wide.

Good luck and thanks, as always, for reading

x

Reading Ireland Month – Sin uile folks!*

*That’s all Folks!

So there we have it. Another Reading Ireland Month/ Begorrathon is over and what a great month it was!

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With over 130 blog posts, an array of writers, poets, musicians and movies were explored. I read and reviewed 20 books by Irish authors, reduced the 746 by 10 and discovered many, many more writers I would love to read!

You can still check out, or add to, the link up here which has gathered together all your fantastic posts.

As usual, I ran out of time and didn’t get to read everything I had planned. I also ran out of time to post about Lisa McInerney’s fabulous The Glorious Heresies and the wonderful Irish documentary The Queen of Ireland.

 

But you know, my kids had to eat and I had to sleep so I squeezed in what I could! Next year could someone make March just a few days longer?!

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Congratulations to the winners of my giveaways:

Annabel at Annabel’s House of Books won the signed copy of Gull by Glenn Patterson

Fiction Fan won a copy of The Long Gaze Back and The Visitor by Maeve Brennan

Madame Bibilophile won a copy of Fallen by Lia Mills

There will be one final giveaway of a subscription to Irish literary journal The Stinging Fly which will be open to everyone who contributed a Reading Ireland Month post and I will make the draw next week once all posts have been added.

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Highlights of the month for me were the response to my post about the criminally under read Maeve Brennan, seeing your choices for the month and getting into a Twitter chat with Lia Mills about my slowly decreasing TBR!

The main highlight though was all the fantastic enthusiasm and support I received from the blogosphere. Thanks to everyone who took part, from the blog posts to the retweets, you have all been supportive and joined in the fun.

Thanks to Niall at The Fluff is Raging for co-hosting this year’s celebration with me. Remember The Begorrathon Facebook page celebrates Irish literature and culture all year round, so do give us a follow.

For now though, it’s back to normality here at 746books. I’ll keep working away at that TBR and I am looking forward to planning my books for the 20 Books of Summer Challenge.

As usual in the week after Reading Ireland Month, I question whether or not I will do it again, but I’m sure Reading Ireland Month will return in some shape or form. I’ve even been debating whether or not there would be any interest out there for a Ulysses Readalong?

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Look at that monster!

 

Am I mad? Most likely….

No 632 The Burning of Bridget Cleary by Angela Bourke

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When I was 7 years old, I developed ringworm on my face. After several rounds of medicine hadn’t cleared it up, my Mum took me to a local faith healer to try and treat it. This was 1978. As a child growing up in Catholic Ireland, my grandmother still believed in the banshee, my great aunt could foretell the future through her dreams and you never set foot inside a fairy ring. It should be no surprise then that 100 years previously in rural Ireland, a young woman was burnt to death by her husband who thought she was a fairy changeling.

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Bridget Cleary

Bridget Cleary has passed in to the stuff of legend. So goes the children’s rhyme

 Are you a witch or are you a fairy?

Or are you the wife of Michael Cleary

She is often cited as the last woman in Ireland to be burnt as a witch, but that is not entirely the case.

In March 1895, in Tipperary, Bridget Cleary, a healthy, intelligent and attractive 26 year old, fell ill with what was possibly bronchitis. Just over a week later, her husband, aided by her relatives, including her father, burnt her to death in her own kitchen and buried her in a makeshift grave. Only they didn’t agree that they had killed Bridget. Intheir minds, they had killed a changeling, a sickly, frail facsimile left in the place of Bridget when she was abducted by fairies. Her husband insisted that his real wife would soon return at a nearby fairy ring, riding a white horse.

 Cleary said that his wife had told him she would ride out of the fort on a white horse on the Sunday night, and that if he could cut the ropes that tied her to the saddle and keep her, she would stay with him

Of course, she didn’t reappear and Michael Cleary, Bridget’s father, her aunt and four cousins were all tried for murder with Michael eventually receiving a 20 year sentence. Upon his release, after serving 15 years, he emigrated to Montreal.

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Michael Cleary following his arrest

 

The story of Bridget Cleary lives on though and in Angela Bourke’s wide ranging examination of the case, she not only explores the crime against Bridget, but the social and cultural and folk lore beliefs in Ireland at the turn of the twentieth century. The murder of Bridget Cleary was widely reported in Irish and English newspapers and even in the New York Times, mainly due to the more fantastic elements of the case and Bourke has a lot of source material to work with, drawing out the wider political implications of the murder and its’ reporting at that time.

Ireland was undergoing a deep cultural change in the 1880s with a tension between the Catholic Irish belief system and the English push for progress and logic. The Land Bill and Home Rule were being debated and the newspapers covering Bridget Cleary’s murder took entrenched political sides when it came to the reporting of it.

 Newspapers and law courts told it one way; oral rumour and legend, concerned more with finding ways of skirting around the unspeakable and marking points of danger than with bringing offenders to justice, told it very differently.

Through the death of Bridget and the conviction of her husband, Bourke delineates these two very different ways of thinking, the clash of the peasantry, who brought their world to rights by exorcising a fairy and the modern culture of judgement and punishment.

Suddenly the Branches twined around her -1917

Bourke is very good at painting a portrait of rural Irish life at this time, with the focus on oral rumour and legend and she explores the customs and living conditions; salaries and manners of commerce; the role of the police and the Catholic Church and the constraints placed on women and how they were viewed in society. She has a keen knowledge of, and understanding for the traditional beliefs about fairies and the supernatural in a world where ways of thinking were not based on reading or learning, but on the oral tradition. Storytelling, music and song still held high currency in rural Ireland and Bourke describes the belief in fairy legend as a means of understanding the world.

 Fairy legend can be compared to a database: a pre-modern culture’s way of storing and retrieving information and knowledge of every kind, from hygiene and child care to history and geography.

Fairy legend also allowed the Irish peasantry to explain away the unexplainable. Child mortality, physical and mental disability and sudden illness were all the work of the fairies. The English word ‘stroke’ comes from the Irish ‘poc sí’ or ‘fairy stroke’ and Bourke points out that,

Fairy-belief legend provided a way of understanding congenital and other disabilities, or at least gave an imaginative framework which could accommodate them.

Fairy-belief explained the abnormal, the unacceptable and it was also used as a means to keep deviant behaviour in check in children and to remind women of their place within a patriarchal society.

Bridget Cleary was not your average 26 year old woman in Ireland in 1885. She was attractive, dressed well and spoke her mind, not too unusual, but she was also educated and economically self-sufficient. She kept hens (as many women at that time did) and was a dressmaker who owned a Singer sewing machine, a unique acquisition at that time and she dies with £20 in a jar under her bed, a year’s salary for a labourer at that time. Michael and Bridget were also childless, after eight years of marriage, a fact that would have given rise to gossip in the town. Bridget was generally seen as superior and aloof in the village, and there were rumours that she had a lover. She did not conform to social expectations, so it is not surprising that when she fell ill the rumours of fairy involvement started to circle.

Those who were jealous of her would have gained a certain satisfaction from seeing her chastened by illness, while stories about her abduction by fairies could have been a euphemistic way of noting her extra-marital activities.

But what of her husband, Michael Cleary? What did he believe? When his wife first fell ill, he certainly tried to help her, calling on the doctor (who did not come) and then the priest – who perhaps, unhelpfully, gave her the last rites. When these avenues failed him, he turned to a fairy doctor for a herbal remedy. Was he driven mad by lack of sleep and the death of his father two days previously to strike his wife and set her on fire? Did he genuinely believe she was a changeling and what he was doing was necessary? And what of Bridget herself? During her illness she seems to have goaded her husband, accusing his mother of being a changeling and telling her visitors that her husband ‘was making a fairy out of me’. Bourke never allows the reader to forget about the spirited, smart woman at the centre of this crime, a woman who, at the height of the torture she received, replied to her father’s question as to whether she was a fairy or Bridget Cleary, with the heart-breaking ‘it’s me, Dada’.

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The hearth where Bridget Cleary was burned to death.

 

Bourke certainly seems to feel that the murder of Bridget was not premeditated and came from some extent in the belief that she was a changeling, yet the torment she endured before her death, the brutality of her murder and the lack of support she received from her family members make this a difficult conclusion to reach today, or for that matter, for the judge in the case at the time who found all the defendants guilty.

Bourke however, is asking the reader to remember that

 Fairies belong to the margins, and so can serve as reference points and metaphors for all that is marginal in human life. Their underground existence allows them to stand for the secret, or the unspeakable

Her thoroughly researched, well-structured and thrillingly dramatic account of the life and death of Bridget Cleary places the murder in context and gives credence to its historical importance in Anglo Irish politics and the parallels with the concurrent trial of Oscar Wilde. It is a fascinating exploration of the folk beliefs of the time and a devastating reminder of the cruelty that can stem from a belief system against those we love.

Read on: Book

Number Read: 115

Number Remaining: 631

Here Are The Young Men by Rob Doyle

 

He frowned. She laughed. He brightened. She pouted. He grinned. She flinched. Come on: we don’t do that. Except when we’re pretending. Only babies frown and flinch. The rest of us just fake with our fake faces. He grinned. No he didn’t. If a guy grins at you for real these days, you’d better chop his head off before he chops off yours. Soon the sneeze and the yawn will be mostly for show. Even the twitch. She laughed. No she didn’t. We laugh about twice a year. Most of us have lost our laughs and now make do with false ones.

London Fields, Martin Amis

Meet Rez, Kearney, Matthew and Cocker, the ‘young men’ of the title of Rob Doyle’s brutal but brilliant debut novel Here Are the Young Men, all of whom are tired of faking with their fake faces.

Here Are the Young Men cover

The novel tells the story of these young men as they spend a purgatorial summer between finishing school and waiting for their exam results. None of them are sure of what they want to do with their futures – go to University or get a job, but all are determined to have one last summer of excess and ‘getting fucked’.

The setting is Dublin in 2003, the height of the Celtic Tiger when these young men have a raft of possibilities ahead of them. There is work to be had, college places to apply for and family offering jobs in America. They have loving families, attentive girlfriends and aside from worry about exam results, the future is bright.

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However, as Doyle delves into the minds of each of the young men in turn – from the depressive Rex to the sociopathic Kearney – what he finds instead is emptiness and anxiety, petty violence and disturbing sexual desire. Growing up with reality TV, violent video games and easy access to drugs and alcohol, the young men are looking inward and don’t like what they see. Yet these are not the mindless of thugs that populate say an Irvine Welsh novel, Doyle’s characters are smart, but they are bored.

It wasn’t a hangover, just a sickening sense of emptiness, like there was a cold pit inside me and I was at the bottom, looking up towards a distant skylight, shivering.

A sense of exile pervades this novel. The young men are exiled from their families, from their city and their culture and ultimately from themselves. There is a sense of removal and an alienation that pervades their lives. The reality television programmes they watch claim to be real but aren’t. The pornography they watch is not real, yet it forms the framework for their relationships with their girlfriends, to the extent that Rez cannot tell if he or his girlfriend enjoy sex, or are just pretending. Kearney, the most unhinged of the group, has imaginary and not so imaginary conversations with a character from the video games he plays incessantly, until real violence and screen violence merge and blur and even he has no idea of what is real anymore.

Lately I’d grown depressed at the thought – which not long ago would have felt exciting – that most of my friends were twisted, volatile outsiders. You started out playing with this stuff – the extremism, the chaos – and it felt vital and exhilarating; but then suddenly you couldn’t control it, you’d gone too far and it wasn’t exciting anymore, only frightening.

As the boys try to fill their summer, Doyle explores the psyche of these teenage boys and what he finds veers from the general teenage angst of Matthew, through to Rez’s depression and Kearney’s sociopathy. With the exception of Kearney, whose American Psycho-esque rants will horrify and entertain in equal measure, Doyle remarkably captures a generation of young men drowning in anxiety and isolation.

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Like Alex and his droogs in A Clockwork Orange, they try to find solace in drink, drugs, sex and violence but these diversions only isolate them further and in that particular period of time between school and ‘real-life’, they are struggling to find something meaningful to aspire to. They all want to experience rather that watch life and for Kearney, that takes on a darker tone as his latent violence threatens to take him and the rest of the gang into territory they could not previously have imagined.

The tale of a boy on their class who killed himself echoes around the narrative of Here Are The Young Men and Matthew’s girlfriend Jen reminds him that

More men between 18 and 25 kill themselves in Ireland than in any other country in the world – apart from Norway

Here Are the Young Men cleverly explores the world that today’s young men and women are growing up in and find it, rather than them, lacking. This is life as a simulation and as their attempts to find something real to experience races along, it is inevitable that one, or all of them, will crash with disastrous consequences.

This book is definitely not for everyone, it is bleak, brutal and at times really tough to read, with violence, date rape, anger and foul language populating its pages. It can at times veer into the implausible and the female characters are underwhelming, but the novel is alive with a sharp, intoxicating prose and a dark sensibility that peels back the fake face to reveal the true mind. Here are the young men, they might be frightening but they are real.

Here are the young men, the weight on their shoulders,

Here are the young men, well where have they been?

We knocked on the doors of Hell’s darker chamber,

Pushed to the limit, we dragged ourselves in…

Joy Division, Decades

Fallen by Lia Mills – Review & Giveaway!

 

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Lia Mills’ novel Fallen is the Dublin: One City One Book choice for 2016 and for the first time Dublin has teamed up with Belfast for a Two Cities One Book Festival. As a literary contribution to the centenary celebrations of Easter 1916, it means that readers north and south in Ireland can explore the same book from different viewpoints.

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Fallen tells the story of the events of Easter Week 1916 in Dublin, but despite being an historical novel, the story is told from the point of view of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances and is at once a more accessible and a more humane read.
Katie Crilly is the daughter of a wealthy family in Dublin, trying to find a meaningful path through life that may or may not involve the marriage and children that is expected of her.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to marry anyone. But if I didn’t, what would I do with my life? The truth of it was that I didn’t know what a person like me was for

As the novel opens, we learn that she has been denied a place to study for a Masters in History due to her mother’s disapproval. Returning home, she finds that her beloved twin brother Liam has signed up to fight in WW1. Lost without her brother, Katie takes a research job with a couple – May and Dorothy – who are writing a book about Dublin’s monuments and she comes to find herself in the work.

I loved the discipline of chasing an idea, assembling evidence, constructing and argument…I loved the almost physical sensation of learning, an expansive stirring and waking in my mind

But then the unthinkable, or perhaps the inevitable happens. Liam is killed on the Western Front and the family and his fiancee deal with their loss in different ways. For Katie, Liam’s loss is like a loss of identity. She is no longer a twin and feels his death deeply.

If you love someone, and that person dies, all that love becomes a burden, a weight accumulating, pooling inside you, with nowhere to go… Sometimes it gathered itself into a shape, a shadow, peeled itself off the ground and attached itself to my heel. It followed me and spoke, in Liam’s voice, words I’d memorised, from his letters.

As Katie tries to make sense of her life and come to terms with Liam’s death, she becomes caught up in the events of the Easter Rising in 1916 and finding refuge from the fighting with May and Dorothy, she also meets their nephew, Hubie Wilson, who fought alongside Liam in France. He is the only person who can give her an insight into how Liam experienced life at war and the circumstances of his death.

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The aftermath of the Easter Rising 1916 in Dublin city centre

This is essentially a coming-of-age story, but what elevates it is that Katie’s self-determination is played out against a nation’s own act of self-determination. This is an historical novel, but if a reader is looking for the facts of the Easter Rising, they will not be found here. Mills is careful to make the Rising the backdrop and not the focus of her novel. We learn no more than what the large cast of characters learn, and the gunfire, fighting and soldiers appear in snippets and fragments, experienced as Katie travels around the chaotic city, trying to get her family to safety, helping at a hospital and eventually becoming ensconsced with Hubie at the fringes of the fighting. By focusing on the personal, Mills presents us with a picture of ordinary life within conflict.
This is not unfamiliar material, but Mills has crafted a tale of integrity and emotion. Her language is clear-sighted and humane and through Liam’s letters, she writes of war with a skill and ambition that would be on a par with Faulks at his best.

Lines from his letters scrolled through my mind, evoking their strange images: a grey-coated figure falling like a tree in a clearing, causing birds to clack and flap into a wheeling sky and vanish; the ghosts of leaves tumbling among echoes of snapping branches; mud underfoot and everywhere you looked. Rock-solid mud.

Neither does she shy away from the horror of fighting, be it at the Front or on the streets of Dublin and she explores the conflicting allegiances that come with fighting in any conflict. Katie uses her brothers’ experiences as a framework to understand the Rising and as a narrative device it is extremely successful.

The war would drag on ’til there was no one left to fire the rusted empty guns on the last survivor, who would long have forgotten what silence was, what it sounded like

For me though, the most interesting part of the novel was the depiction of female friendship and the idea of female self-actualisation. Katie is an intriguing character with her love of learning and wish to have the same prospects as her brother. Her relationships with her sister Eva, and May and Dorothy are as core to the fabric of the novel as her inevitable love interests. May and Dorothy may well be lesbians, it is interesting that we are never explicitly told, but Mills points out that for the time, it is more scandalous that they are campaigning for women to have the vote.

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Mills also has a lovely eye for descriptive detail. A day is described as ‘a slowly closing door‘ while Dublin ‘boiled with people, a seething cauldron of firelight and oily shadows’.
If I had one issue with Fallen (aside from the unrepresentative cover), it is that there is a vast cast of characters and plots and a lot of them are left unresolved. Characters are invested in, only to slip away from the narrative and plot lines have a tendency to peter out with little resolution. But in the end, this is Katie’s story and Katie’s alone and while the story itself may not be new, or entirely original, Mills has creates something both heartbreaking and hopeful.

As Katie tries to make sense of both her brother’s war and the struggle she has found herself in the middle of, she is facing her own struggle to take governance over her own life and ultimately her own body. As the book’s title takes on several meanings, we witness a young woman merging her passion, her intelligence and her grief to create an inner strength that will serve her in whatever decisions she makes about her future, facing the ‘thresholds to be crossed in one direction only.

 

For the final Reading Ireland Month giveaway, I have a copy of Fallen up for grabs. Simply comment below, or tweet this post to be entered. I will post worldwide and will make the draw through Random Picker on 1 April!

 

A Terrible Beauty is Born

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Easter 1916 by WB Yeats

I have met them at close of day

Coming with vivid faces

From counter or desk among grey

Eighteenth-century houses.

I have passed with a nod of the head

Or polite meaningless words,

Or have lingered awhile and said

Polite meaningless words,

And thought before I had done

Of a mocking tale or a gibe

To please a companion

Around the fire at the club,

Being certain that they and I

But lived where motley is worn:

All changed, changed utterly:

A terrible beauty is born.

That woman’s days were spent

In ignorant good-will,

Her nights in argument

Until her voice grew shrill.

What voice more sweet than hers

When, young and beautiful,

She rode to harriers?

This man had kept a school

And rode our wingèd horse;

This other his helper and friend

Was coming into his force;

He might have won fame in the end,

So sensitive his nature seemed,

So daring and sweet his thought.

This other man I had dreamed

A drunken, vainglorious lout.

He had done most bitter wrong

To some who are near my heart,

Yet I number him in the song;

He, too, has resigned his part

In the casual comedy;

He, too, has been changed in his turn,

Transformed utterly:

A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone

Through summer and winter seem

Enchanted to a stone

To trouble the living stream.

The horse that comes from the road,

The rider, the birds that range

From cloud to tumbling cloud,

Minute by minute they change;

A shadow of cloud on the stream

Changes minute by minute;

A horse-hoof slides on the brim,

And a horse plashes within it;

The long-legged moor-hens dive,

And hens to moor-cocks call;

Minute by minute they live:

The stone’s in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice

Can make a stone of the heart.

O when may it suffice?

That is Heaven’s part, our part

To murmur name upon name,

As a mother names her child

When sleep at last has come

On limbs that had run wild.

What is it but nightfall?

No, no, not night but death;

Was it needless death after all?

For England may keep faith

For all that is done and said.

We know their dream; enough

To know they dreamed and are dead;

And what if excess of love

Bewildered them till they died?

I write it out in a verse—

MacDonagh and MacBride

And Connolly and Pearse

Now and in time to be,

Wherever green is worn,

Are changed, changed utterly:

A terrible beauty is born.