No 595 The Reckoning by Jane Casey

Things weren’t great for Maeve Kerrigan at the end of The Burning, the first in the series of crime novels by Jane Casey. Attacked by a serial killer; dealing with the machismo and misogyny of her fellow police officers and starting a perilous relationship with her colleague Rob Langton had left Kerrigan in a fragile position.

51MabqZ50WL._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_
When we meet Maeve again at the start of The Reckoning, things aren’t much better. She has moved into a new flat with strange neighbours; she can’t reconcile working with and sleeping with Rob and her beloved boss Godley has paired her up with the obnoxious, chauvinistic Josh Derwent.

Kerrigan and Derwent are working on a series of murders of registered paedophiles – all horrifically killed, but in very different ways. Given the nature of the victims, there is little impetus for the police to solve the crimes, but Maeve sees past the unsavoury nature of the victims’ characters and believes that murder is murder no matter who the victim is. Derwent, does not agree – either with Maeve’s determination to solve the crimes, or with her usefulness as a police officer.

Derwent was still talking, oblivious. “According to the boss, this is an important case and needs sensitive handling. That’s why he assigned you to work on it with me, which makes some sort of sense. The last thing I need is one of those hairy-arsed DCs from the team clumping around offending the families by saying the wrong thing.”
“I’ll do my best to avoid that,” I said stiffly.
“That’s the thing. You don’t have to do anything at all. Just stand back, look pretty, and let me do all the work.” Derwent squinted out through the windscreen and I was glad he didn’t look in my direction, because the expression on my face was nothing short of murderous.

Thankfully Maeve ignores Derwent’s advice to rest on her looks and the more they investigate, the more complex the situation they are in becomes. John Skinner, a well-known gangster with a grudge against Godley is involved. His daughter Cheyenne has gone missing and there are links to another woman’s disappearance 18 months before. Meanwhile, it seems as if someone within the police force is leaking information and someone is stalking Maeve, taking pictures of her without her knowledge.

If the plot sounds complex, it is. At the half way mark there is a U-turn, a change of focus which is cleverly handled without leaving the reader to feel the rug has been pulled from under them.

There is a lot packed into The Reckoning, and it is to Casey’s credit that nothing feels like filler and subplots are made to feel like part of the bigger picture. The reckoning of the title refers to a lot of happenings in the book and the result is a well-paced, sharply plotted thriller.

Jane-Casey

When I reviewed Jane Casey’s previous novel, The Burning, I said that the strength of the book was the characterisation of Maeve Kerrigan and that continues to be the case. Crime novels can be as complex and plot-driven as they like, but if the lead character isn’t memorable, then there is the risk of the book becoming forgettable. However, with Kerrigan, Casey has created a dynamic, sharp-witted protagonist to match classic detectives such as Jane Tennison, or John Rebus. Maeve drives the plot as much as the crimes do and I find myself reading as much to find out about what it going to happen to Maeve.

Casey also explores the male-female working dynamic very well, particularly as it stands in the police force and the introduction of a lesbian character in this book widens out that discussion.

Casey is also careful not to turn Derwent into an all-out chauvinist pig and has created a character with room to grow. The relationship between Derwent and Maeve is an interesting one. They are probably more similar than Maeve would like to admit, both with a fiery temper and the ability to say the things that no one else will say. Despite being as maddened by him as Maeve is, there is also an interesting undercurrent developing in their relationship that I’m sure will carry through in future books.

Jane Casey has just published her latest book Let the Dead Speak to great critical acclaim. For me, she has created a great protagonist in Maeve Kerrigan and her crime novels are the most interesting I have come across in a long time. Meticulously plotted, realistic in the depiction of the slog of police work and with a strong, smart female lead, this series is one I can’t wait to read more of.

Read on: iBook

Number Read: 152

Number Remaining: 594

The Re-publication of The Female Line

Women’s writing in Ireland and Northern Ireland has been put firmly back on the agenda lately, not least with the publications and success of The Long Gaze Back and The Glass Shore, both edited by the inimitable Sinead Gleeson.

These anthologies have won awards, brought new readers to women’s literature and shone a spotlight on forgotten writers, however, they had a predecessor.

Female+Line+1985

The Female Line was launched on 28 November 1985 at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and was the first anthology of women’s writing from Northern Ireland ever published. The anthology included women who were already professionally writing and those who had never been published before and it featured extracts from novelws, short stories, poetry and drama. Spearheaded by Ruth Hooley (now Carr) and published by the Northern Ireland Women’s Rights Movement, the book sold out in a month and immediately went into reprint.

The Northern Ireland Women’s Rights Movement was established in 1975 to act as an ‘umbrella’ for a wide range of female-led organisations from both Nationalist and Unionist areas of Northern Ireland and to support and help women to co-operate over common problems and societal needs.

Inspired by Virago and the Attic Press in Dublin, The Female Line attempted to address the massive under-representation of women writers in Northern Ireland, in both publishing and in inclusion in academic courses. The anthology also aimed to encourage more women writers towards publication. At the time, Ruth Carr asked,

This silence is ambiguous. Does it mean an absence – there are hardly any women writing? Is it due to suppression – women lack confidence and opportunities to develop their writing? Is it a result of oppression – women are discriminated against in terms of what is taken seriously and which material matters? Or is it a passive resistance by those who find the language so steeped in gender-biased values as to be alien and inadequate to express their meaning?

What the collection did was bring the voices and imagination of women front and centre and provide them with a platform for their shared experiences that had previously not existed.

The themes of female entrapment, identity, abuse, power, motherhood and self-awareness and self-actualisation found in these works are also found in the recent anthologies published which suggests that the voices of women still need to be heard to provide a full and deep knowledge of a culture and place. The Troubles also featured heavily as a theme in The Female Line and gave a different perspective on the much talked about and written about conflict.

Some of the writers included in the original anthology have gone on to great successes, writers like Marie Jones, Medbh McGuckian and Jennifer Johnston. Some were revived by their inclusion, like Janet McNeill, whose books had largely been out of print until the 1980s. Some no longer write.

The+Female+Line+2016

Others deserve to be read more and with this in mind, The Female Line, long out of print and hard to get second hand, has been republished as an ebook by Herself Press. It is available to download from all major online booksellers and is well worth checking out.

At the recent launch for the republication of the collection, it was announced that a new book, Female Lines: New Writing by Women from Northern Ireland will be published by New Island in autumn 2017, bringing the focus to a new generation of women writers from Northern Ireland.

Contributers to The Female Line are:

Fiona Barr, Mary Beckett, Evelyn Berman, Shirley Bork, Geraldine Bradley, Francine Cunningham, Anne Devlin, Polly Devlin, Dorothy Gharbaoui, Ann W. Cleave, Christine Hammond, Ruth Hooley, Anne Jago, Maura Johnston, Jennifer Johnston, Marie Jones, Eileen Kelly, Jan Kennedy, Kate Madden, Stella Mahon, Patricia Mallon, Sandra Marshall, Frances McEnaney, Mary McGowan, Medbh, McGuckian, Jill McKenna, Blanaid McKinney, Janet McNeill, Elizabeth Miller, Frances Molloy, Sheila Mulvenna, Brenda Murphy, Anne Noble, Christina Reid, Geraldine Reid, Anne-Marie Reilly, Delia Rimington, Bernadette Ross, Carol Scanlon, Janet Shepperson, Laura Shier, Anne Strain, Anne Tannahill, Mary Twomey, Una Woods

 

The Moon Mother | Medbh McGuckian

Twice-lost colonial, making inroads

On my sleep, till I go round with the

Machinery, however can I trust

Your jagged growing, the gender you assume

On a given day? Unmothered by

This extra weight, and jealous of

Your wiriness, I polish the same

Place on the table over and over,

Not regretful of the huts where

The bloodless, blanched gardenia

Stains around the edge when it’s touched,

But forming messages to wrap

The braided moon in her dwindling,

Deflowered self-possessed, aware

Exactly when the floor would act that way

 

 

No 597 Good Behaviour by Molly Keane and a Giveaway!

good-behaviour

Good Behaviour was Molly Keane’s first book written under her own name despite having published many of her novels as MJ Farrell. She was almost 80 years old when she published the book in 1981 and it’s interesting to wonder why she waited so long to write as herself. Her friend, and editor, Diana Athill speaking to The Guardian had a clear idea.

 With Good Behaviour it was instantly clear to me that she ought to step forth as herself, and her own hesitation about it was very slight. Molly was essentially modest, but like all good writers she knew deep down that she was good. I think the shape her modesty took was simply not feeling that being a very good writer was all that important.

To say that Molly Keane is a good writer is an understatement and to say that Good Behaviour is a good book does it a great disservice. Good Behaviour is a great book, at turns funny and heartbreaking, with a searing dark humour, a keen satirical eye and a warm beating heart.

The novel is one long cri de coeur of Aroon St Charles, daughter and resident of the ‘big house’ Temple Alice, where she lives with her distant parents, beloved brother and assorted servants and where the only thing frowned upon is not adhering to the rules of good behaviour. Discretion is valued above all else in Aroon’s world, it is always necessary to do the right thing.

The book opens with what could be seen as a murder. Or a hastened death as Aroon’s mother passes away following an unfortunate encounter with a rabbit mousse. Aroon’s response to her mother’s death is what her response to all the tragedy in her life has been. She reverts to good behaviour.

I had time to consider how the punctual observance of the usual importances is the only way to behave at such times as these. And I do know how to behave –believe me, because I know. I have always known. All my life so far have done everything for the best reasons and the most unselfish motives. I have lived for the people dearest to me, and I am at a loss to know what their lives have been at times so perplexingly unhappy.

As Aroon, now 57, looks back on her life, her relationships and what has brought her to this point, Keane does something incredibly clever. Not only is Aroon an unreliable narrator, that is without doubt, but Keane allows her to tell the reader her story without Aroon ever understanding it herself. She is not trying to mislead us, it is she herself who is misled. Keane creates a scenario whereby reader and author are complicit and Aroon remains entirely in the dark.

Aroon adores her brother Hubert and falls in love with his friend Richard. It is clear to all that Hubert and Richard are the ones who are in love and they use Aroon to hide their secret. Aroon remains oblivious to the painful end, and following an unsatisfactory moment in bed with Richard, she falls back on what she knows best.

My anger and anxiety at the appalling noise he made getting back to his room suffocated and choked down a different sense in me; one of absolute loss. But we had both known how to behave. We had behaved beautifully. No pain lasts.

Aroon’s mother behaves in much the same way, steadfastly ignoring the fact that her husband is sleeping with the help and interacting with her children only when it is called for by society.

Mummie escaped us all. The tides of her painting and her gardening and the spring-tides of her whole life with Papa were as the sea between is – no step we took left a print in the sands.

Her neglect borders on the cruel and yet Keane uses a light touch, mining the dark laconic humour of the relationship between the two women.

“Dr Coffey never sends in his bill”

“That’s all you know. He charged ten pounds when you were born. It was quite a ridiculous price” She looked through me and back in to the past. “Nothing’s worth it”, she said.

It is easy to empathise with Keane’s anti-heroine. Aroon is too tall, too buxomy and too awkward for the society she lives in. Her mother’s neglect and her father’s easy charm have left her yearning for love and acceptance in a world that relies on surface appearance only. The need to behave at all times cripples her into not having any authentic feelings at all – not love, grief or loss. Throughout the book, everything from financial disaster to thwarted love to the sudden death is briefly acknowledged, then never spoken of again.

Our good behaviour went on and on, endless as the days. No one spoke pf the pain we were sharing. Our discretion was almost complete.

And yet Keane does not allow Aroon to be entirely sympathetic. She may have more of her mother in her than she realises, as is evident when despite the family’s failing financial situation, she turns down a proposal from a mere solicitor. Her lack of understanding does not stop at social situations and relationships, she has no understanding of herself either.

The reason I enjoy other people’s disasters is because they involve my understanding and sympathy in a way their successes never can. I like feeling genuine pity

This utter lack of awareness makes Aroon an appealing figure, but as the book progresses and her situation changes, the similarities with her mother become all the more evident and her good behaviour becomes a way of managing others and managing her own ever decreasing expectations.

by John Swannell, Iris print, 1983

Good Behaviour is beautifully written book and perfectly balances moments of bleak shock and sadness with sharp, dark humour. It is, at times, incredibly funny.

Mrs Brock went straight to the schoolroom lavatory, where she was overtaken by a violent diarrhoea. When she got off the mahogany seat to lift the D-shaped hand-fitting which swirled out the blue-flowered basin she sat down again at once “in case”, that tiny euphemism that covered so much so usefully

It is this balance that makes Good Behaviour such a wonderful novel. The ending is a tense as any thriller when the roles between mother and daughter spin on an axis and the final lines drive you right back to the beginning again, to re-read and seek out gems you may have missed.

Read on: Books

Number Read: 150

Number Remaining: 596

molly books.png

My first giveaway for Reading Ireland Month will be a copy of Good Behaviour and the recently published biography of Molly Keane by Sally Phipps.

Molly Keane had a fascinating life – like Aroon she was born into Anglo-Irish wealth and rode horses. Her early writing career as MJ Farrell saw her have great success on stage, as her plays were produced by John Gielgud. However, the untimely death of her husband led her to give up writing for over thirty years. Good Behaviour was her return and she was Booker-nominated for it – losing out to Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie.

If you would like to win these books, simply comment below, or share this post on Twitter. I will post internationally and the competition will close on Monday 13 March when the winner will be chosen by Random Picker.

Good luck!

Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent

Liz Nugent’s barnstorming page turner of a thriller, Lying in Wait, has a blistering opening line;

My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it

From here on, the tension never lets up as we learn that respected judge Andrew Fitzsimmons has murdered the aforementioned Annie and with the help of his wife Lydia, they have buried her in their garden. What follows is not your typical who dunnit – we know that already – but a why dunnit as we find out what has brought these respected members of society to this situation, and wonder will they get away with it?

As Andrew starts to crack under the pressure of his crime, his cool as ice, agoraphobic wife Lydia takes control, determined to protect her beloved son Laurence and her closeted, comfortable life in the family home – Avalon.

lying-in-wait

The story is told through multiple narrative voices. Lydia, the cold matriarch, her passive, overweight son Laurence who starts to become obsessed with the missing girl and Karen Doyle – Annie’s sister, who is sure Annie did not just run away and will stop at nothing to find answers. Karen and Laurence meet by chance and as their relationship grows and Laurence begins to realise what his parents have done, the novel becomes a chess-like battle of wills between Laurence and his domineering mother.

Lydia is a wonderful character – complex and compelling, both without pity, but still to be pitied. Holed up in her fortress of Avalon, with its beautiful gardens, privacy and fading opulence, she is a woman who is used to getting what she wants. As the family fortune starts to dwindle and her chance to have a second child disappears, her actions set off a domino effect, which will cause havoc for all involved.

Another striking character in the book is the setting itself. Avalon, Lydia’s childhood home is reminiscent of Manderlay in du Maurier’s Rebecca. Lydia idolizes the childhood she has spent there, but Nugent slowly shows how the house itself manifests the pain and turmoil that drive her present day motivations.

Avalon is her prison as much as her refuge and although the setting for the novel is the 1980s, the book takes on a fairy tale quality, with Lydia, the evil queen doing all she can to protect her reputation and keep her son by her side. She is a fabulous villain, over the top and unforgettable but Nugent is clever enough to provide an explanation for her darkness. The gothic undertones create a narrative that demands the suspension of disbelief, as the twists and turns lead the reader to a horrifying ending of dysfunction and warped self-preservation.

irishbookawards16_0422-1-1024x683

Liz Nugent really knows how to ratchet up the tension and the book is well plotted and paced. The influence of Nugent’s work as a script writer for RTE soap Fair City is well in evidence here and a television or film adaptation may be in the not too distant future. In a style reminiscent of Harlan Coben, this is a book to be read in the least number of sittings possible. Once you think you have a handle on where the narrative might be going, Nugent upends everything with twist after twist.

The book also has interesting things to say about female sexuality, motherhood and mental illness and has a rich supporting cast of characters that create a believable landscape for the sometimes unbelievable plot.

Lying in Wait has taken the Irish literary world by storm, winning the RTÉ Radio 1’s The Ryan Tubridy Show Listeners’ Choice Award 2016 at the Irish Book Awards. No doubt do the same in the UK now that is has been chosen as one of Richard and Judy’s Book Club picks. She has just signed a deal with a US publisher and the release of Lying in Wait along with her first novel Unravelling Oliver in the States in 2018 will further cement her reputation.

ireland-month-17

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?

ireland-month-17

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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