Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Last of the November Books (and Plays): Irish Authors

I read the work of some Irish authors last month, all of which I enjoyed a lot.

The River Capture by Mary Costello
I’ve read this author’s previous books, which are short story collections, and enjoyed them a lot. So when this novel came up as I was scrolling through the list of new e-books at the library website, I borrowed it. It’s a beautifully written book, but not a straightforward narrative.

Luke O’Brien is 34 and in a bit of a liminal state. He is really, really into James Joyce, particularly the character of Leopold Bloom. He is on a career break from his job at a boy’s school in Dublin and living alone at the family farm, his mother and elderly aunt having died a few years before. He had thought he might write a book about Joyce while on this break, but he hasn’t even started and his two years are almost up. Soon, he will have to decide what to do.

In the first part of the book, we learn about Luke and what led up to this point in his life, while at the same time, moving through his day-to-day life with him. Then Luke hits a crisis point and he has either an epiphany or a delusional episode or perhaps a bit of both. At this point, the narrative structure changes. The account of Luke’s activities is mixed in with accounts of where his mind is going as he is engaging in these activities. It is as though someone is observing and reporting. I suspect that someone who is at least familiar with James Joyce would have gotten more out of that section of the book than I did, but even though I am without any knowledge (or particular interest) in Joyce’s work I could get the general idea. At the very end of the book, there are a couple of pages written in the first person from Luke’s point of view.

I found this to be a strange book in some ways, but a good one nonetheless.

A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume
I discovered this book in the e-book section of the library website. This is the description provided:

‘Struggling to cope with urban life – and with life in general – Frankie, a twenty-something artist, retreats to the rural bungalow on ‘turbine hill’ that has been vacant since her grandmother’s death three years earlier. It is in this space, surrounded by nature, that she hopes to regain her footing in art and life. She spends her days pretending to read, half-listening to the radio, failing to muster the energy needed to leave the safety of her haven. Her family come and go, until they don’t and she is left alone to contemplate the path that led her here, and the smell of the carpet that started it all.
Finding little comfort in human interaction, Frankie turns her camera lens on the natural world and its reassuring cycle of life and death. What emerges is a profound meditation on the interconnectedness of wilderness, art and individual experience, and a powerful exploration of human frailty.’

It is a slightly weird, but oddly compelling book. This is not a book with a neat and tidy ending, but that is as it should be. Since it’s not a neat and tidy book, such an ending would be out of place.

The writing is excellent. The book is structured in mostly short paragraphs and we move back and forth in time, which is a reflection of Frankie’s disjointed thoughts.

Big Maggie by John B Keane
I was scrolling through the e-book section of the library website and this title appeared. When we first got to Ireland, a theatre in Dublin was staging this play and had ads on the radio, so I remembered the name. It sounded intriguing, so I borrowed it. To say that I liked it wouldn’t be quite right. It’s a very powerful piece of work, but it did sometimes leave me breathless thinking about the sadness of a life spent existing instead of living and with the anger of what societal expectations and repressive religious ideologies.

When the play opens, it is the 1960s in rural Ireland. We are at the funeral of Walter Polpin, who died shortly after his 60th birthday. His widow, Maggie, is happy enough at this turn of events. He was a jerk, who treated her and their kids badly. One of the kids, the oldest daughter, Kate, was daddy’s favourite and she is sad about his death. The others, Mick, Maurice, and Gert (in order of their ages), don’t seem as pleased as Maggie, but like her feel liberated. Their feelings are short-lived, however, when Maggie makes it clear that Walter signed over the farm and their shop to her, so they won;t get anything and she is now in control. The family dysfunction continues. The play ends with a soliloquy by Maggie in which we learn how she ended up where she finds herself, and see that she is more than the unfeeling, angry, over-controlling woman portrayed throughout the play.

The themes Keane addresses in this work include family relationships, gender roles, the culture of rural Ireland in the 1960s, the harm dome by the Catholic church, freedom from societal expectation and the price one pays for going against the grain, even unwillingly.

Moll by John B Keane
After reading Big Maggie, I was interested in more of Keane’s work, so went back to the e-book section of the library to see what they have. This was available, so I borrowed it. Like Big Maggie, this play revolves around a strong woman, but this play, unlike the other one, is very funny. Two curates and a canon live together in the parish of Ballast. It is 1971 and the move to decimal money has been the cause, at least in their opinion, of their trusted housekeeper deciding to marry a guy from New Jersey, USA and move there with him. Unaccustomed to doing anything for themselves, the situation is dire and they are eager to replace her as quickly as they can. They hire Moll, who comes with at least one excellent reference. Moll has ideas about how things need to be. The canon, who is the senior of the three priests, is delighted by how things unfold. The other two, not so much. The two curates are way out of their league, of course and Moll knows what she’s doing, so she runs things her way.

I've started my December pile, which contains a few seasonal collections I definitely want to read this month, along with a couple of recent finds that I'm eager to dive into. And who knows what will strike my fancy as we move through the month. I've stopped requesting library books for the time being, so I can read some of the books I have at home.

Happy reading!


Vicki said...

I might at one or two to my list for 2020.

Shari Burke said...

All of these were surprises found in the e-book section of the library website--I'd not heard of them until I was scrolling :-)

Laurie Graves said...

The description of "Moll" made me giggle. Fun!

Shari Burke said...

It was funny--and that was welcome after Big Maggie, which had moments of humour, but was also dealing with difficult issues.