The latest addition to my website is Padraic Colum‘s The Flying Swans. Colum is better-known as a poet, playwright and recounter of Irish folk tales so this book – one of the two adult novels – he wrote – is relatively unknown, which is a pity, as it is a very fine story. It tells of the O’Rehill family, formerly Irish gentry but pushed out somewhat by their English colonial masters, but now – late nineteenth century – trying to get back. We follow, in particular, two members, father and son Robert and Ulick. Both father and son seem adrift, unsure of where they are going and what to do. Robert manages to alienate several of his family. He twice abandons his wife and children and shows a general lack of responsibility. Ulick struggles to help his abandoned mother and bring up his younger brother but he, too, cannot find his place and loses his way more than once. Colum tells a superb story, augmented with a large cast of colourful Irish characters.
The latest addition to my website is Sam Coll‘s The Abode of Fancy. This is a first novel by an Irishman, who certainly mines Irish literary traditions. It tells the story of various supernatural creatures, in particular the Mad Monk, formerly deceased but now back to life, his deceased brother and dog, and his affair with a banshee, as well as the stories of Simeon Jerome Collins and his father’s odd assortment of friends, drunks, failed lovers, former chess champions, including Simeon’s disastrous love life and his irritating student friend, Konrad. Other characters – real and otherworldly – all make an appearance, as the various stories intermix and then go shooting off in various directions. It is all a bit chaotic and, at times, not as interesting as it might be, but it is certainly a very credible work for a first novel.
The latest addition to my website is J. G. Farrell‘s Troubles. This novel, which won the Lost Man Booker Prize more than thirty years after the author’s death, is the first in Farrell’s acclaimed Empire Trilogy. It is set in the crumbling Majestic Hotel, a symbol of the decaying British Empire, located in County Wexford in Ireland, at the end of the First World War and during a period when unrest in Ireland is increasing. Major Archer, who had been invalided out of the army for what we would call post-traumatic stress disorder, seems to have accidentally got engaged to Angela, daughter of the owner of the Majestic and goes to stay with the family there, her father, staunchly opposed to any Irish independence, her irresponsible brother and her almost evil twin sisters. He barely sees Angela, who is ill, but watches as both the hotel and British rule in Ireland, crumble in synchronicity. It is a superb novel and deserves the reputation it had when it first came out.
The latest addition to my website is Paul Murray‘s The Mark and the Void. This is a hilarious satire on the banking crisis of 2008 onwards and follows the story of an Everyman, Claude, a Frenchman working in a Dublin-based investment bank. We follow the nefarious and wittily described doings of the bank which are, at best, immoral and often illegal. We also follow Claude’s failed love life and, in particular, his friend Paul (possibly Murray), a failed writer, who comes up with various ideas to make his living, including robbing Claude’s bank and setting up a waitress porn website. Murray mocks bankers and banking, writers and publishers, the modern art world, the English, politicians, Eastern Europeans, lovers and anything else that comes into his sight, all the while exposing the failure of the banking crisis in a hilarious way. Unless you think bankers and writers are the salt of the earth, you cannot fail to enjoy this novel.
The latest addition to my website is Joyce Cary‘s Not Honour More. This is the third in Carey’s second trilogy and definitely the weakest. It follows on from the first – Prisoner of Grace – and is narrated by Jim Latter, former soldier and colonial officer, married to Nina, née Woodville, who had been married to the Liberal politician, Chester Nimmo, for a long time. Chester now Lord Nimmo is still living with Latters and Latter suspects him of having an affair with Nina. Meanwhile the 1926 General Strike is starting and Latter is called on to organise the Specials (auxiliary police force) while Nimmo sees it as a way back into politics. Of course, it all goes badly wrong for all of them. With Latter being a most unsympathetic character, volatile, jealous and full of his own self-importance, his narration does not endear him to us nor does it make for as an enjoyable book as its predecessors.
The latest addition to my website is Joyce Cary‘s Except the Lord, the second of a trilogy that started with Prisoner of Grace. In this previous novel, we followed the adult life of Chester Nimmo, as told by his ex-wife, Nina. This book is told by Chester himself and is mainly about his childhood. He grew up in a rural Devon village. His father was both a farm labourer and an Adventist preacher. The family was poor and, like many of the people of that time, suffered from health problems. His mother and two young sisters all died of tuberculosis. As Chester is writing this account, presumably for Nina, in an attempt to win her back, he often tells of things he did and the lessons he learned from his actions and the consequence, with the aim of showing how he has developed. We follow his interest in religion, left-wing politics and unionism as well as his relationship with his family. It did not work as well as the previous one for me but is still an interesting read to see how the adult became what he was.
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.
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.
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.
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.