Joyce Cary: Prisoner of Grace

The latest addition to my website is Joyce Cary‘s Prisoner of Grace, the first book of his second trilogy. The story is told by Nina Latter, formerly Nimmo, née Woodville. She had been married for some time to Chester Nimmo who became a successful and (on the whole) principled politician in the early part of the twentieth century in the Liberal governments before and during World War I. She had not wanted to marry Chester but she was pregnant by another man – her cousin, Jim, whom we know from the beginning she will later marry – who could not marry her because of his army career. Chester is happy to marry her (her £5000 inheritance was not a deterrent though certainly not the main reason) and she helps him in his political career. He eventually becomes a minister. The book is both about his political career but also about the politics of their marriage, which are often more complicated than his political career. Cary gives us another first-class book about what is ultimately a failed career and a failed marriage, albeit with its high points as well.

Joyce Cary: The Horse’s Mouth

The latest addition to my website is Joyce Cary‘s The Horse’s Mouth. This is the third book in Cary’s first trilogy and far the best-known, primarily because of the character of the narrator/protagonist Gulley Jimson and also because of the the film of the book starring Alec Guinness. Jimson is a thorough rogue, continually cheating, deceiving and lying, often in trouble with the law but always trying to paint his masterpiece, though never succeeding. The book is hilariously funny as he manages to wiggle out of most (though certainly not all) of his scrapes, and tries to paint.

Joyce Cary: To Be a Pilgrim

The latest addition to my website is Joyce Cary‘s To Be a Pilgrim. This is the second in the trilogy, which started with Herself Surprised. This one tells the story of Tom Wilcher, last of his generation of Wilchers, an old man with heart problems. It is set just before World War II, as he is living at Tolbrook, the family estate in Devon, with his niece, Ann, and nephew Robert. Much of the time, Tom is looking back at his family and their lives together, but also comparing the Britain of forty years ago with current Britain, particularly as regards religion and agricultural and land management practices and, not surprisingly is not happy with modern ways. But he also looks at the varied lives of his family, their complicated romantic relationships (most of which seem to have been less than successful) and what they did with their lives. This is a very fine novel, which deserves to be better known as Cary tells a first-class story.

Joyce Cary: Herself Surprised

The latest addition to my website is Joyce Cary‘s Herself Surprised. This is the first in a trilogy which primarily aims to give, in each volume, the points of view of the three main characters. This one gives the point of view of Sara Monday. She starts as a housekeeper, marries the son of the house, has four daughters with him, but is broke, when he dies with many debts. In the meantime she has met Gulley Jimson, the key character of the trilogy, an artist, wife-beater, reprobate, scrounger, and, from the perspective of the reader, an unlovable man. However, he is fiercely independent, painting what he wants, even when given a paid commission. His talent is open to question many times during the book – most people do not like his work – but he has much support and even has a painting in the Tate Gallery. However, Sara continues to support and help him throughout the book, even coming close to marrying him and only not doing so when she finds out he is already married. Even when she is working as a housekeeper for Wilcher, the third key character of the trilogy, she helps Jimson, stealing from her employer to finance him, with disastrous consequences. But it is Jimson that makes this book and the other two books of the trilogy – the not very lovable rogue.

Austin Clarke: The Sun Dances at Easter

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The latest addition to my website is Austin Clarke‘s The Sun Dances at Easter. This is a story set around a thousand years ago, involving Irish myths and legends and the relationship between pagan Ireland and early Christianity in that country. Orla, the heroine, cannot get pregnant and is advised to visit the Well of St Naal. She sets off with her maid and, has a series of adventures en route, including meeting a young man, Enda, who had trained to be a priest but was now somewhat disillusioned. The couple nearly have a fling, Enda tells her a couple of stories which illustrate the conflict between pagan and Christian Ireland and she finds the well. It is by no means great literature but a thoroughly enjoyable tale, if you like Irish myth and legends. The book is long since out of print.

Austin Clarke: The Singing Men at Cashel

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The latest addition to my website is Austin Clarke‘s The Singing Men at Cashel. This is a novel that was published eighty years ago but was never reprinted (partially because it was banned in Ireland) and is now quite difficult to obtain. Clarke was part of the Celtic Twilight movement, which saw Irish writers looking back to both their historical and legendary past, particularly in the period soon after independence. Poets and dramatists were to the fore, such as Yeats, Synge and Lady Gregory (Clarke was better known both as a poet and dramatist) but there were some novels, even though they have been generally been forgotten. This novel tells the story of Gormlai, a tenth century queen of Ireland. She was known as a poet and an intellectual. She also was married three times, the first two being failures. Her first marriage was to Cormac, an intellectual and ascetic, who believed women to be the root of all evil. The second was to Carrol of Leinster, a rough, bullying, warlike man. Finally, at the very end of the book she runs off with her stepbrother, Nial. The language is flowery and often archaic and the main characters often somewhat basic. It is easy to see why the novel has not been reprinted but, nevertheless, it is interesting to see how novelists handle this subject matter.

Eimear McBride: The Lesser Bohemians

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The latest addition to my website is Eimear McBride‘s The Lesser Bohemians. Many critics raved about her first novel, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, which won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. I did not share their enthusiasm, finding her disjointed sentences distracting and annoying without adding anything to the book. This novel starts off in the same way but, fortunately, it gradually becomes more conventional. However, I still find sentences that stop half way and arbitrary fragments to be distracting. The story is straightforward. In 1994, Eili, an eighteen year old Irish woman, has come to London to study at drama school. She meets a man twenty years older than her, who is just becoming a successful actor. She yields her virginity to him and they start an on again off again on again off again affair. Both have demons but he, in particular, has major ones that prevent him having a straightforward relationship with a woman. Both have several flings during the relationship and both use drugs and alcohol to excess. Can the love of a good woman (with her own demons) save him? It is not a bad book but nor is it the great book that some critics have made it out to be.

Michael Hughes: The Countenance Divine

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The latest addition to my website is Michael HughesThe Countenance Divine. This is an apocalyptic vision of England with the story told in four periods. In the first period we follow John Milton and his secretary, with the story culminating in the Great Fire of London. The second part features the poet William Blake and his visions of England, with Blake making a talking homunculus out of Milton’s rib. The third section features additions to the From Hell letter, a letter allegedly written by Jack the Ripper and enclosing half of the kidney of one of his victims, with Hughes adding a whole lot more of these letters, each more macabre than the last. The final section (where the book actually starts) features a fictitious group of people working on the Y2K bug, though one of them is involved something much more sinister. The stories do link together and give us as a whole a highly imaginative apocalyptic view of England.

Lisa McInerney: Glorious Heresies

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The latest addition to my website is Lisa McInerney‘s Glorious Heresies. The novel is about what McInerney calls the arse end of Ireland. It is set in a grim part of Cork. All the main characters, without exception, are variously drunks, drug addicts, drug dealers, abusers, rapists, prostitutes, murderers (at least three of the main characters commit a murder in this book), arsonists (one actual and two potential in this book), petty criminals and the like. While some may have the occasional redeeming characteristic and many are clearly victims of Ireland’s economic crisis and their own grim circumstances, none of them can be said to be likeable which, of course, is McInerney’s point. The story revolves around an accidental murder – a woman kills an intruder – and how this murder involves, directly or indirectly, all of the main characters. The woman is the mother of a gangster who enlists a petty criminal, widower, father of six and drunk, to help him dispose of the body but others learn of the story and the gangster feels that this is a problem he has to deal with and he does or at least tries to. It is not a pretty story nor, for that matter, enjoyable but clearly McInerney feels this is what her country has come to. The novel has just won the the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction . Frankly, I would have given the prize to the favourite, Anne Enright‘s The Green Road, a much better novel in my opinion.

Anne Enright: The Green Road

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The latest addition to my website is Anne Enright‘s The Green Road. Enright is definitely making a claim to be the best living Irish novelist and this novel will only add to her reputation. It tells the story of a contemporary, somewhat (but not too) dysfunctional family, the Madigans, who live in West Clare. At the start of the novel, Pat Madigan is dead and his widow, Rosaleen, is finding it difficult to adapt. The first part, called Leaving, is divided into five sections, one each for Rosaleen and her four children, Constance, Dan, Emmet and Hanna. As the title says, they are all on the way out, though not necessarily just yet, as the first section is devoted to Hanna, who is twelve in 1980, the period when her section is set. In each section a key but not necessarily life-changing event happens to the protagonist of that section. In Hanna’s section, we learn that her older brother, Dan, has decided to become a priest, to his mother’s horror though Hanna (and Dan’s girlfriend) do not seem overly concerned. By the second section, eleven years later, Dan has given up the priesthood and is dabbling in the New York gay scene. Emmet is in Mali, working for UNICEF, starting and ending a relationship, while Constance is married, caring for her mother and children and facing a lump in her breast. The second part sees them in 2005 reunited, unusually, for Christmas at the family home, which Rosaleen is planning to sell. Inevitably, tensions surface. Enright does a first-class job of dissecting a fairly ordinary Irish family which, by its own admission, has been far from successful, whether financially, professionally, personally or romantically.