Tuesday, May 22, 2007


I read a strange variety of books for this review. The one I started with I (very unusually for me) did not finish. I got “Winterwood” by Patrick McCabe
(Hardback: Bloomsbury: 19.40) for Christmas and having enjoyed “Breakfast on Pluto” so much last year, I was really looking forward to starting it. It tells the story of Redmond Hatch a provincial journalist, who on a trip to his midlands hometown encounters an odd and enigmatic fiddler known as Pappie Strange. The story of Redmond’s life flits between past and present and is a little difficult to follow, but I was determined to stick with it until the tale took several really grotesque turns. Although “Pluto” was quite a dark story in many senses it was lifted by McCabe’s savage and brilliant humour. I found this to be missing in “Winterwood” and the narrative, with the evil figure of Pappie Strange flitting in and out became so sinister and disturbing that ultimately I had to abandon it! There is no doubt that McCabe is a brilliant writer, but I am afraid the soul-less nature of this book left me cold, in every sense of the word.

In a similarly wintry vein I next turned to “Ethan Frome” by Edith Wharton
(Paperback: Penguin: 10.00). First published in 1911, it is an acknowledged classic that I hadn’t had chance to read before. The eponymous hero is a New England farmer who has battled with the savage winter landscape of his upland farm for many years. The narrator, a visiting engineer comes to know Frome in his later years and is beguiled by the story of his youth and how Frome has come to be the hobbled and bent figure that we see at the outset of the story.

This is a tiny book, more of a novella, but it is beautifully written and extremely moving. It evokes both the harshness and the glaring beauty of the winter landscape and the depiction of Frome, his wife and the young woman that he falls in love with, are mesmerising. I couldn’t put it down once I had started it and I won’t say anymore about the plot as to do so would spoil the nature of a truly tragic love story.

My next read was, to all intents and purposes a children’s book. I saw “Lord of the Flies”, by William Golding ( Paperback: Faber and Faber: 9.00) lying around the house as it is on the Junior Cert syllabus for this year and I decided to read it again, as it was probably around thirty years since I last picked it up! I was not disappointed. It is a famous story, but for anyone not at all familiar with it, the novel tells the tale of a group of British public school boys shipwrecked on a remote Pacific island in the aftermath of World War II. Golding portrays how the boys’ initial experiences of the tearaway idyll of the island quickly deteriorate into anxiety and nightmares. Their new existence without “grown-ups” soon emulates the warring world they have left, with tribes emerging and the plot leading to some quite shocking scenes of brutality.

There are numerous brilliantly drawn characters in this novel; Ralph, the naturally emerging leader, “Piggy”, the boy destined to be bullied everywhere he goes, and the fascinating and charismatic Simon, who in places brings a Christ-like quality to the God-less world the boys come to inhabit. Golding had written an essay about his novel at the end of this copy and I really enjoyed reading his own analysis of the power of fables in our modern world. If you haven’t come across this book before, or like me, read it donkey’s years ago then it’s definitely worth a visit.

My last read was also a children’s book which I enjoyed tremendously. There’s been quite a bit of hype about it already, so I won’t say too much about “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne ( Paperback: Random House: 10.00). It is delicate, emotional, charming and highly original – guaranteed you won’t be able to put it down once you have started it. It is a great way for older children and young adults to enter into a debate about the injustice and human tragedy of the holocaust, and for adults it comes at the subject from a unique perspective. Highly recommended.

As usual all books are available from Janet Hawkins and her team in the Blessington Book Store- it’s a great place for a browse, so pay them a visit sometime!


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