Tag Archives: Ireland

The Country Girls Trilogy by Edna O’Brien

The Country Girls Trilogy Title: The Country Girls Trilogy: The Country Girls; The Lonely Girl; Girls in their Married Bliss
Author: Edna O’Brien
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571330539
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 704
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

So, it took me close to three weeks to finish this trilogy and I really wish those three weeks had not ended this soon. After having heard so much about Edna O’Brien and her writing, this was the first time I was reading something by her (one of her most famous works) and I just cannot wait to lay my hands on more works by her. On an off-note, a lot of people ask me, how every read of mine ends up being five stars or four stars for me? Well, that’s because I pick what I know for sure I will love reading. I think more people should do that. Read what they know they will love, irrespective. Anyway, back to the Country Girls Trilogy.

The country girls are Kate (Caithleen Brady) and Baba (Bridget Brennan) and the trilogy as you must have guessed is about them. It is about their stories that begin the regressive setting of a small village in the west of Ireland in the years following World War II. Kate is looking for love. Baba on the other hand, is a survivor. All that they want is a life that isn’t handed to them, but what they make of it. With hopes and dreams and out to conquer it all, they arrive in Dublin and that’s where the story plays out. The bad choices made, the bad sex had, the bad friends, the bleakness of living and in all of this, the resilience and not to forget the expectations they have of themselves and what is thrust upon by them from society.

O’Brien has written this trilogy with a lot of heart and soul. It is wryly funny too and there are pockets of so much warmth that you cannot help but hoot for Kate and Baba. Initially I thought I wasn’t going to feel anything for these characters, however, as the story plays out, they become a part of your everyday tapestry, through the similarities and differences. Sure, you cannot relate to the Ireland of the 60’s and sure it is all very different now, everywhere in the world (is it?) but the slice of life is what is pertinent and stays relevant to a large extent.

“The Country Girls Trilogy” is a read perfect for winter. Something about it which I cannot put my finger on – maybe the melancholy factor or the transition from hope to despair and vice-versa or even the frivolous to the profound swinging of thoughts and emotions, all in all a read that you must not miss out on.

Academy Street by Mary Costello

Academy Street by Mary Costello Title: Academy Street
Author: Mary Costello
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 978-1782114185
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 180
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Very few times you come across a book that makes you feel and takes you beyond that, almost in another realm of consciousness. “Academy Street” by Mary Costello was one such book that did it for me this year (and the year has not even begun properly, so to say). If you are the sort of reader that only reads a book a month, then I will almost force you to read, “Academy Street”. It is a book which every reader (no matter what level of reader) should read at least once in his or her lifetime and I am not kidding about this.

“Academy Street” came to me at a time when I needed it the most. Yes, I do believe that books find you when they have to. Till then, no matter how hard you try, you cannot immerse yourself in the book. The book’s permission is needed. “Academy Street” is a novella of one woman and her journey from being a girl to an old woman and life as she sees it through those decades and years gone by. This is perhaps me simply putting it. The book is so much more and the layers to it are just phenomenal.

I had not heard of Costello before picking up this one but I am only too glad that I have now. Tess is not just a character. She is perhaps somewhere there in all of us in various forms or maybe just one. The book charts Tess’s story so to say from childhood till she is an old woman – all her happiness, her anxieties, her loves, her transitions, the loss of her mother (which is stated at the very beginning of the book) to her migration from Ireland to America, a new land with new possibilities, new hopes and new losses. How can one remain untouched by this novella? This was my only thought when I finished this gem of a book.

I am quite sure that other writers might have explored this theme in other books, but what makes this one different is of course the writing. Costello does not confuse the reader. The facts are laid out. The story-line is simple. The writing is simpler. The characters are not so many. So what makes me say that this book is astounding? It is all in the words and the sentences used by the writer.

At the core of the book, there is empathy, loneliness and sheer need to be accepted which intensified chapter after chapter. You get to know Tess like a close friend and there were times I just wanted to keep the book down, so there would be more reading time with it. The book is about her siblings, her friends, but above it all, it was to me, just a brief and simple testimony to life and the living. Tess is constantly finding herself. She is constantly seeking, trying to become that someone, and that will ring true for anyone who picks up this book. There is grace, devastation, eye for detail, elegance and above all empathy to Costello’s writing. I suggest you go and start reading this right now. Savour and cherish it, as books such as these are meant to.

Here are some of my favourite lines from the book. There are obviously more, but for now these will do.

In her life, ever, there were only a few people who had been a fit, with whom she had felt understood.

Ease her terrible ache for human touch, human love. The room was flooded with light and she was blinded, mesmerised.

And how all things change or end or disappear, and this would too, this day, this moment. She looked around. And you too, you will all disappear.

Oh honey, when it comes to the heart, it ain’t about men or women, but people.

Affiliate Link:

Academy Street

387 Short Stories: Day 10: Story 10: A Happy Birthday by Bernard MacLaverty

Title: A Happy Birthday
Author: Bernard MacLaverty
Taken from: Collected Stories

Bernard MacLaverty is not well known in India. In fact, I do not even know how many people would have heard of him at all. I remember falling in love with his writing when I read, “Grace Notes” which was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1997. So, today I picked a story from his collected stories titled, “A Happy Birthday”.

Collected Stories

The story is set in Ireland. His stories are domestic and to me that works beautifully where he imagines them and comes from. Sammy is unemployed. He spends the entire day in the library reading, waiting for something to come along. That is the idea. His mother is not aware of this. That is another layer to the story. In about less than four pages, MacLaverty tells us what he has to with great sensitivity and restraint. I am glad I read this today. Short, full of pathos, confusion and life.

Book Review: The Dream of the Celt by Mario Vargas Llosa

Title: The Dream of the Celt
Author: Mario Vargas Llosa
Publisher: Faber and Faber UK
ISBN: 978-0571275717
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Mario Vargas Llosa is pure genius when it comes to the writing business. His sentences, his words, the plot of his books are beyond stupendous. The reason I praise him the way I do is apparent in his writing and he proves it yet again with his new book, “The Dream of the Celt”.

The Dream of the Celt is the fictionalized biography of Roger Casement (a failed revolutionary) – who was instrumental in Ireland’s struggle for Independence (after he served the British Government and was rewarded by them in more than one way), which culminated in the Easter uprising in 1916. That is just the basic plot of the book, which appears only in the third part. The first two parts of the book are about Casement’s struggle to expose the exploitation of natives in the Congo and the Amazon by rubber barons.

“The Dream of the Celt” is spot on with reference to not only the Peruvian scenery (but obviously he would) but also Irish culture and history, which is evident not only from the story, but also in the manner in which it is narrated. The other angle that Llosa explores is that of Casement being homosexual (and involved with powerful people in the system) as seen through his letters and journals. This propels the story beside the revolution.

I have read Vargas in the past and immensely enjoyed what he has written. Most of his novels center on a political theme or so. The historical novels explore the human toll taken by political idealism. This novel however explores somewhat the lighter side of Casement, which is quite a relief. At the same time, there are a lot of political issues seething at the core of this novel, due to which I had to read up a lot on the side, not only about Casement, but also about his revolution, its cause and thereby the effects.

Edith Grossman has done a wonderful job of the translation, considering that all elements of the book (I am assuming from the authors’ point of view) have been tied eloquently. The story moves back and forth from prisons to Roger’s outside-of-prison experiences, his ideologies and values, giving us a glimpse of the man he was.

The only problem that I had while reading this novel, like I mentioned earlier, was the political scope. It left me confused in places (especially when it came to the dates and which ship did Casement ride) but then it was alright after a while. Vargas can write anything and some of us will love all that he writes. That’s the power of his words.

This book is not for everyone though. It is a challenging read and you might not want to make this your first Llosa read. Try starting with, “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter” or “In Praise of the Stepmother”, which is ideal to an introduction to this fabulous writer.

Affiliate Link:

Buy The Dream of the Celt from Flipkart.com

Book Review: Saints and Sinners by Edna O’Brien

Title: Saints and Sinners: Stories
Author: Edna O’Brien
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571270316
Genre: Short Stories
PP: 224 Pages
Price: £12.99
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

You’ll never get more black Irish than this, some without much humor, other with very dark and wonderful humor. And I write that as a compliment to the rich voice of this remarkable author. I have to confess that this is the first time I have read anything by Edna O’Brien. I must reform myself and read much more.

The opening story, “Shovel Kings,” takes the reader into the darkness of life both outside–specifically London–and inside Ireland, where life is sustained, if at all, by drink where these characters live in poverty and suffer from abuse, told to the narrator, awaiting an appointment with a psychotherapist, by Rafferty, an exile of sorts whose life could be summarized by this sentence in the story: “Nothing was wrong…but nothing was right, either.” I would say there was much that was wrong. As for the title, well it summarizes the existential lot of the Irish men who came to labor, for naught, in London.

In “Sinners,” aging Delia has “lost that most heartfelt rapport that she once had with God,” her prayers coming only from her lips, not “from deep within anymore.” Delia’s is an abode–that is also a small bed and breakfast–much in need of refreshing: wallpapers, paints, towels…everything. She is the mother of five, one dead, but they are like the wallpapers, faded images only, no longer present in her lonely life. Hers had not been a happy marriage, of course! Few are apparently in Edna O’Brien’s works. Is there any happiness in any Irish households? One wonders when reading these brilliant stories.

In “Madame Cassandra” Millie speaks in first person outside the caravan carrying Madame Cassandra, the gypsy seer, who appears not to wish to met with Millie–and the reader soon learns why. Millie reveals this about her past: “I cannot tell you what a relief it is to be here…to be able to let off a little steam.” A little steam??!! Oh, no, this is a woman filled with wrath. And, of course, the sbuject of her discourse, filled with allusions to various mythologies, is her errant husband.

Okay! When these two sentences soon reveal themselves in “Black Flowers,” “She didn’t know him very well. She had volunteered to give painting lessons in the prison in the Midlands where he was serving a long sentence,” then you know you’re in for a good read.

I could write a lot more about this collection of stories, but hopefully this is enough of a taste so that you will want to order a copy. This is a collection of excellently written short stories from a great author. They are not action packed and there are no car chases, but the writing is good quality and interesting. It is an excellent book to dip in and out of if you have only short bursts of time to spend relaxing with a good book – the short journey to work or even a trip to the bathhroom – come all; we all read on the toilet! I bought the book after listening ton interview with Edna O’Brien on the radio and have loved it. I can fully recommend it to anyone that likes good literature and relaxing.