Wednesday, December 30, 2009


I was in with Janet Hawkins in the Blessington Bookstore last month, asking her for a good read that f did not involve romance or families etc etc…spot on as always she recommended “Dissolution” by CJ Sansom (Paperback: Pan: 9.80) It was perfect escapism, a great historical page turner, set at the time of the Tudors as Thomas Cromwell is attempting to dissolve the monasteries on behalf of his master, Henry VIII. The central character of the story is Matthew Shardlake, the hunchbacked lawyer, who initially seems like a somewhat unlikely hero, but his character grows and grows on you as the novel progresses.

Set in one of the monasteries that are set for dissolution, the story centres upon a murder of another commissioner of the king, and Shardlake is sent in to solve the mystery. Sansom is a masterful historical writer and his evocations of the Tudor age are almost visceral. He takes the reader into the sights, sounds and smells of the era and in a very evenhanded way he shows us the corruption of both church and state at the time. Stories of periods of great upheaval are always interesting to me and I have always loved this particular stage in history. What I liked about this book too is that King Henry is kept in the background- powerful and shaping, as ever, but not really a main player in his own right, which I am sure is tough when talking about this fascinating time.

I am not going to say anything else at all about the plot, as it is a super murder mystery- not that I am usually a fan of this genre, but I did enjoy this story. For anyone who does like this kind of story there is also more to pursue, as Sansom has written sequels…again I will probably not be reading them as I find that series can be formulaic (I know, I am notoriously hard top please when it comes to books…) but a set may be a good idea for Christmas for mystery lover?

The other novel I read was completely different and also not the kind of thing I might typically go for. My friend Lorna lent t me “Angels in my Hair” by Lorna Byrne (Paperback: Century: 12.50) It is dubbed as the true story of a modern day Irish mystic and the narrator has a very normal, homespun voice with no airs or graces. From a very young age Lorna sees and experiences angels as part of her daily life. Interestingly, she is able to depict how this both enhances her life, but also sets her apart as different and potentially often very lovely. Interspersed with the general story of growing up, falling in love and marrying are episodes of insight and knowledge imparted by her angel companions- it’s almost like two parallel universes existing side by side.

Many people may be sceptical about this story of everyday angels, particularly in the light of the current controversy surrounding the apparitions in Knock. I would probably be as sceptical as the next person about this- however there was something in the humility of Lorna’s voice as she tells her story that made me believe her account. I feel the angels are her reality and all they do is good- she is clearly a person of great faith and hope, and in these times we live in her story is inspirational in its own quiet way.

By the way booklovers….new treats are on the way as Janet is relocating across the road into the old Gift Annexe in Blessington, and together with a coffee shop books will be sold from “Food For Thought” from this month onwards. Check it out….!



Moya Brennan’s harp playing and singing in September were another perfect combination for the Russborough saloon, but I must admit the return of the RTÈ Vanbrugh quartet on November 6th was really memorable. I saw them last year too, but this time around got closer to the front and could see the musicians up close playing their instruments, which was great….the four musicians play so harmoniously together – you can feel they have become almost synbiotic over the years.

They played some lovely pieces by Haydn and later Borodin- the latter being my favourite. I am not a classical music buff, so rarely recognise melodies on hearing them, but the pieces they played were called “Les Vendredis” or the Fridays, from where musicians used to gather and play together. So, as it was taking place on a Friday evening it seemed highly appropriate! The energy and liveliness of the tunes the quartet played sounded, as my companion said “Like a conversation between old friends”.

As ever the magical setting of the saloon has a charm all of its own- it has become one of my favourite settings in which to hear live music, because the acoustic and atmosphere are so unique, especially on cosy winter evenings. The Christmas concerts are always wonderful too, so book up early for them! As a musical experience it is truly transporting!

Angie Ruane

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