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Category Archive for 'Ireland and Northern Ireland'

When her husband Sam dies alone of a heart attack in the minutes that she has been waiting to join him at a favorite restaurant in Vermont, devoted wife Antonia makes it her primary focus to create an afterlife for him. She needs something that will enable her to relive memories and past events with him while she lives her everyday life. When Mario, a young, undocumented worker from Mexico who works on the nearest farm, comes to clean her gutters, he eventually asks for a favor – Will she please help him call his girlfriend who is now in the US but far away from him in Vermont? Developing her themes of love and loss in life and death as they affect Antonia, Julia Alvarez creates several subplots involving other characters, all reflecting powerful emotions without descending into sentimentality or maudlin self-analysis. Mario, his girlfriend Estela, and José, his fellow worker on the farm, are one plot, dealing with the problems of illegal immigrants desperate to create new lives in the US. The second plot line revolves around a get-together of Antonia and her three sisters in Massachusetts to celebrate her birthday. The failure of sister Izzy to appear for the celebration, as promised, becomes the all-consuming issue for the other sisters for many days, and the need for Antonia to be present as they and the police all search for Izzy force her to be out of state when some of the issues involving Mario and his undocumented girlfriend are becoming critical. Abandonment, betrayal, the sadness of loss, and anger lead to personal growth, further develop the original themes, and flesh out this dramatic and sensitive novel.

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In this “Tartan Noir” mystery set in 1973, thirty-year-old Harry McCoy, a member of the Glasgow polis, is about to have a week to end all weeks. From July 13, 1973 to July 21, 1973, he will be busy twenty-four hours a day with a series of heinous crimes that will take him from investigations in his native Glasgow to Belfast and back. Several missing persons and some grisly murders, which seem to be the most efficient way to solve difficult problems among the various crime lords of Glasgow, will keep him and his fellow officers so busy they rarely have time to drink, socialize, or experiment with substances. Only a few hours (and ten pages) after the novel begins with the disappearance of thirteen-year-old Alice Kelly, McCoy discovers the body of musician Bobby March, “the best guitarist of his generation,” a man who was not only asked to join the Rolling Stones, but said “no, thank you” to the offer. The noir gets even darker as the novel develops, with more grisly murders and a trip to Belfast by McCoy in search of more information regarding funding for the crimes in Glasgow. The references to Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones give context to Bobby March’s talent, and provide a bit of a break in this very dark narrative.

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With two main characters who have little to suggest that their stories will become the charming, funny, insightful, and un-put-down-able chronicles that eventually evolve, Irish author Rónán Hession demonstrates his own creativity and his own ideas regarding communication and its importance or lack of it in our lives. He ignores the generations-old traditions of boisterous Irish writing and non-stop action in favor of a quiet, kindly, and highly original analysis of his characters and their unpretentious and self-contained lives. Leonard and Hungry Paul, both in their early thirties, are serious introverts with few friends, but events occur which inspire each of them to become just a bit more social. For Leonard, it is a young woman; for Hungry Paul, it is the realization that a new job comes with the possibility that he may have his own apartment, not live at home. I cannot remember when I have read a book which so thoroughly and honestly touched my heart. The writing is intelligent, memorable, real, and very funny, and I am already impatient for Rónán Hession’s next novel.

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Friendship has always played an important role in author Roddy Doyle’s work, and this novel, his thirteenth for adults, is his most intimate in its portrayal of two long-time friends who get together to talk, every now and then, and share their lives. Friends since childhood, Davy and Joe have moved in different directions, with Davy now living in England and coming to Ireland periodically to visit his father in Dublin, and Joe still living in Dublin, where he has worked since high school and raised a family. As the novel opens, the two, now approaching sixty, are meeting in a Dublin pub, and a long night of conversation between them forms the structure of this novel-in-dialogue as they share memories of the past, with most of the memories coming from Joe. Of primary importance to him, is an experience that took place exactly a year ago when Joe saw, for the first time in thirty-seven years, a woman he and Davy had both been in love with when they were twenty-one. With Joe doing most of the “talking,” this novel-in-dialogue tells the story of their marriages and the role this beautiful woman played in Joe’s early dreams and now, surprisingly, in his later life. The many shades of love and the obligations and pleasures associated with it are seen though the vibrant conversations here, as once again, Roddy Doyle brings aspects of Dublin and its people fully to life and shares them with an empathetic world.

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From the sensual and fully imagined opening paragraphs of this extraordinary work to the intensely personal characterizations of the people who share their stories here, Irish author Joseph O’Connor creates worlds so vibrant that many readers will feel as if they, too, have become part of this novel, its period, and its subjects. O’Connor does not hold back here, creating three artists of the literary and theatrical worlds of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries whose very lives reflect the Gothic intensity of the age with all its private hopes and failures. Henry Irving, world famous actor; Bram Stoker, theatre manager and frustrated writer; and Ellen Terry, highest paid and most beloved actress in England, all speak to the reader so intimately that their often difficult lives, with all the aches and longings one usually holds inside, begin to emerge in what feel like “private” confidences between the characters and the reader. Sharing the characters’ lives from their early adulthood until, in two cases, their deaths when they are in their sixties, the author allows the reader to share even their self-judgments and their judgments of each other when their public lives are at an end, which gives a broader perspective to their stories. Superb.

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