The latest addition to my website is Colum McCann‘s TransAtlantic. This novel was longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize. The novel is in two parts. The first part tells of three sets of people travelling from North America to Ireland – Alcock and Brown, the first to fly the Atlantic non-stop, Frederick Douglass and Senator George Mitchell who was a broker for the Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement. In all cases, they meet a fictitious Irish woman and, as we learn in the second part, all these women are related – mother, daughter and granddaughter. We follow their stories, from Lily Duggan who walked from Dublin to Cork and then on to Cobh, in order to get a ship to the United States, and then her subsequent life – she works as a nurse in the US Civil War and then she and her husband make a success in the ice business. Her daughter, Emily, is a journalist reporting the Alcock and Brown take-off and Emily’s daughter, Lottie, plays tennis with Senator Mitchell. We even have a McGuffin in the form of a letter given to Brown to take on his flight, which he fails to deliver, and is passed from daughter to daughter, unopened. However, though it is an interesting idea, overall it did not really work for me, with the historical characters being flat.
The latest addition to my website is Liam O’Flaherty‘s Insurrection, another of O’Flaherty’s novels set against the backdrop of Irish history. The history in this case is the 1916 Easter Rising, a spectacular failure from the military point of view but which had profound political repercussions later on. O’Flaherty focuses his story on a small group of people involved in the rising – a small unit sent to defend the Dublin-Dun Laoghaire road from the expected British troops, as well as the mother of one of the unit members. O’Flaherty shows how the rising was both badly planned and badly executed and doomed to failure early on but many brave men stuck it out, knowing that things were not going well. It is certainly not a great work but still worthwhile, whether you are interested in Irish history or not.
The latest additions to my website are two Anne Enright novels. The first is What Are You Like?, an earlier novel. Frankly, this story of two young women looking for their origins did not really work for me. I found that, while Enright’s writing is, as always, superb, the plotting was somewhat unstructured and wooly and did not awaken my interest as the two women, Maria Delahunty and Rose Cotter, just drifted around. I could not feel any great sympathy for them or, indeed, any interest in them, despite their need to know where they came from and who they were.
The Gathering, however, is a different matter. It deservedly won the Man Booker Prize, apparently unanimously, despite not being the favourite. It is a wonderful story of Veronica Hegarty, one of twelve, whose brother, Liam, eleven months her senior, has just killed himself. Why did he kill himself and what was the role of Ada, her grandmother? The complex nature of large and somewhat dysfunctional families is examined. While, as in What Are You Like?, she jumps around, you always have the feeling that she is focussed on the main issue, Liam’s death, Ada’s role and the problems of large families, unlike in What Are You Like? where the focus seems to drift away from the main issue. This is definitely a book worth reading
The latest addition to my website is Liam O’Flaherty‘s Famine, a harrowing account of the Great Irish Famine of the mid-1840s, which resulted in at least one million deaths and that number or more emigrating, primarily to the United States. There have been several excellent historical books on the subject and the complete failure of the British government and the landowners to do anything to mitigate the famine but O’Flaherty’s personalised account is a very powerful novel and one well worth worth reading, even if it does make for distinctly unpleasant reading, as he spares us few details. This is the third of his books to appear on my site and others will follow. He is very much a realist writer and many of his books recount fictionalised episodes of Irish history.