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Category Archive for 'Ic – Iv'

In ten short stories, Irish author Roddy Doyle sums up the new, difficult lives of several men dealing alone with various issues, including the difficulty of dealing with health-required lockdowns in the wake of Covid 19. In Ireland, these lockdowns seem to have been accepted as a matter of course, something affecting everyone and obeyed by everyone, though creating a strong sense of melancholy and loss to everyday life. Roddy Doyle’s book title, “Life Without Children,” also reflects the emptiness many of his characters feel with their children now grown up and missing from their parents’ everyday lives, to the point where at least one character, in the short story “Life Without Children,” wonders if it is even possible to change his now-dull life for the better. The “action” of these stories is quiet and personal for all the main characters, each of whom spends much of his time analyzing his situation, his relationships, and himself. This is a collection which will keep older readers thoroughly involved and intrigued by the author’s solutions to his characters’ darker moments “without children,” while younger readers will be intrigued by Doyle’s insights and his depictions of a different reality.

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Setting his third novel in the south of Ireland in the years between 1920 and 1982, author Billy O’Callaghan writes a semi-autobiographical account of a large, extended Irish family always struggling to stay alive, meet their responsibilities, and love their children. O’Callaghan, a master of description, both physical and emotional, creates scenes of great sadness, stressing the goodness of the people and the horrors of outside events – from the Potato Famine through a world war and a society and church in which women have little control over their lives. The strength of these women lies in their love of family, especially their children, and their willingness to do whatever is necessary to save them under horrific conditions. Their hard lives are their “normal,” one which becomes real as a result of O’Callaghan’s insightful descriptions of the conditions under which these women live and the creativity with which they approach their difficult roles as mothers and caregivers.

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In the fifth installment of the Wyndham and Banerjee mysteries, set in 1923, author Abir Mukherjee once again recreates the complex issues of colonialism in India after World War I, laying the groundwork for the tensions, the hostility among those of competing religious views, and the overriding fear that an all-out religious war might break out at any moment. The Hindus, Muslims, devotees of Mahatma Gandhi, and the British are all committed to keeping India free from tyranny, but each wants his own version of “freedom,” and no one agrees with anyone else. Author Abir Mukherjee is able to convey this confusion and frustration among all those of influence by using two very different characters. Sergeant Surendranath Banerjee, often known as “Surrender Not” Banerjee for his attitudes and the pun on his name – is a Hindu from Calcutta who is working with Sam Wyndham of the British Imperial Police Force, to try to bring peace and avoid anarchy as a result of all the competing social and religious interests. Then the bombings and fires begin. Full of action, a wide variety of characters, complex relationships, and a history of India and the forces that made it what it is today, this book presents all the details.

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John Banville, writing here under his own name, has returned to writing mystery stories featuring the often unlovable Dublin police pathologist, Quirke, and he clearly enjoys the freedom of his mystery writing. This novel opens in London, where an Irishman who “liked killing people” is hired to kill a mother who plans to leave her son out of her will. Grabbing her bag “to make it look like garden snatch job done by some panicky kid,” he does the job and escapes. The second setting is in Donostia, Spain, where Quirke, a recently married pathologist for the Dublin police, and his wife Evelyn, a psychiatrist, are on holiday. In Spain, Quirke twice sees an Irish woman from a distance and believes he has seen her before, dismissing, temporarily, the idea that a physician friend of his daughter Phoebe in Dublin, missing and presumed dead, might actually be the person he has seen. Creating many darkly ironic scenes and descriptions, Banville creates his characters, using them to present plot elements which many other “literary” authors would be unable to include in a mystery without being accused of “sensationalism.” APRIL IIN SPAIN is a coherent, tense, and wide-ranging mystery, written with drama and flair, with no subject considered off-limits.

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In this newly reprinted Italian classic by Natalia Ginzburg, originally published in Italy in 1961, Elsa, an unmarried young woman of twenty-seven, becomes the primary narrator/commentator on her own life, the lives of her family, and the social scene which they all share in a small, unnamed town in Italy during and after World War II. As the only first person speaker in the novel, Elsa guides the action in three chapters, giving personal insights and a sense of honest reality to the day-to-day lives of which she is part. Four other chapters, concentrating on the points of view of other characters, emerge from her parents’ generation – their prewar lives illustrating where they have started and their postwar lives revealing the effects that fascism, socialism, communism, and the partisanship of wartime have made on their domestic lives, family, and friendships. Unusual to the point of being unique, or almost unique, Voices in the Evening deals with the growth of fascism in Italy, World War II, and the postwar conditions – big, complex subjects – but these issues become almost peripheral to the everyday gossip and personal stories on which the main characters and the community depend for their daily lives. The issue of moving from their local towns and cities for parts of the war and its aftermath is treated almost casually, with more attention paid to love stories and their complications, gossip, and personal tales than to the big subject of Italy during the war. By changing the focus so dramatically, the author is able to gain some dark humor while developing a creeping horror of the way in which these people allow their personal issues to camouflage the dramatic changes taking place in their lives and throughout the country.

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