Saturday, 24 February 2007

The Rooms by Declan Lynch

The Rooms
Declan Lynch
Hot Press Books

IT’S GREAT to see a book coming out of nowhere, and this is what’s happening with The Rooms, long a sleeper. Why? Book clubs, I’d guess.

Ex-rocker Neil lingers soberly on the quaking bog between wannabe and has-been, memory warmed by two hit singles, a hit album and a flop album. And years of hysterical drinking.

The writing is fabulous - though there's carelessness, as when Neil's history with his old pal Jason is repeated word for word at the end of the book.

He’s now living in that rockstar-beloved ambit of wealthy relics of old decency, roosting in the gate lodge of a Caribbean-accented fashion designer called Jamaica.

The Rooms are the AA meetings; the rest of Neil's life is taken up writing a ‘tuner’ that’s going to be his comeback, if Broadway returns his calls.

Somewhere there’s a dark memory he doesn’t talk about, much.

But this is alcoholic-land, and Jamaica has her own secrets. By the time she's paying him a wage while keeping him in the lodge, while she hangs out in the big house with her literary idol, it's easy to guess the end.


My Glass Heart by Karen Gillece

My Glass Heart
Karen Gillece
Hodder Headline Ireland €??

SAILING out of the shops, Karen Gillece’s new novel is a haunting mix of literary thriller and pink chicklit.

Helen Glass is the ladylike proprietor of Dublin florist Joy Flowers, nicely married, beautiful – but perhaps just a tad bored.

Is it this or social conscience that presses her to give a chance to a kid just out of jail? That’s one of the questions in the mind of the Capote-like narrator, playwright Reuben, who's battening on Helen’s story for his comeback.

Helen’s social project turns out to be a smooth-talking liar, then a stalker who comes after her with his serrated knife.

Everyone – as always with Gillece – has secrets. Reuben has been nasty to his dying lover. Helen’s husband was bullied at school. Helen hides her hots for the rough-trade lad helping her sort her blossoms.

Even the person who lands Stalker-Boy on her is astonished to find Helen didn’t actually know he had a violent past and, well, made things up.

My Glass Heart suffers from its pompous narrator – it’s a story about someone telling a story for much of the narrative. But it’s totally vindicated by the gripping closing pages.

Saturday, 17 February 2007

Damaged by Cathy Glass

Cathy Glass
Harper Element €??

ANYONE who thinks just looking at child porn harms no one, really, should read this book.

Cathy Glass is a foster mother who’s shared her family’s life with a succession of troubled children for 20 years. But Jodie was different.

Fat, angry, disturbed and filthy, full of rage and without any limits, Jodie seemed at first just a kid that nobody liked.

Cathy gradually discovered that Jodie’s parents, uncles, grandfathers and friends have abused her, and she is a victim of a giant paedophile ring.

This isn’t a story with a happy ending. Read it and weep.


Shopaholic and Baby by Sophie Kinsella

Shopaholic and Baby
Sophie Kinsella
Bantam Press €??

DITSY fashionista Becky is back, and she’s pregnant. And the heroine of the Shopaholic series has made a Nobel-worthy discovery for medical science: shopping is the cure for morning sickness.

So she shops till she drops, even sourcing the perfect obstetrician. But uh-oh, who is the fab ob and gyn but husband Luke’s languid old flame, flame-haired Venetia. And just when lovely Becky is all bulgy and queasy.

Naturally we can expect a roller-coaster of misunderstandings, suspicion and embarrassment.

Very funny embarrassment - I was reading this, helpless to stop, while walking through Baggot Street and let out such a snort of hilarity that it made a passing businessman jib and whinny in shock.

Becky's a disaster on legs, but the legs end in Archie Swann distressed calfskin cowboy boots (the ones with the drawstring - the ones that will seal her deal on the great new house she wants), so that's all right.

Wasn't it Freud that defined those ruled by the pleasure principle as children unable to control their lives, while those deploying the reality principle - and putting off current pleasure to earn later, more valuable rewards - are the grownups.

Herr Doktor Doktor Freud would have sniffed at Becky, whose motto should be 'to know it is to love it; to love it is to own it'.

But her wantingest want is for husband Luke, and it looks as if the old flame may want to make her marriage toast. So Becky hires a private eye - and naturally also sends the sleuth to find where her colleague gets her secret fabulous eyebrow look.

This is a book for the pleasure principle, to be gobbled in one greedy gulp, not savoured for its literary finesse. Brilliant, funny and absolutely lovable.


Saturday, 10 February 2007

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

The Space Between Us
Thrity Umrigar
Harper Perennial €??

JOURNALIST Thrity Umrigar is a high-flyer: she’s won the Nieman Fellowship to Harvard, written for the Washington Post and Boston Globe, and taught in the US.

So it’s with a certain dashing control that she approaches this story of duty and love.

Slum-dweller Bhima works for wealthy widow Sera. But the two women are wound in bonds of friendship: Sera has paid Bhima’s adored granddaughter’s college fees; Bhima has concealed Sera’s secrets.

But now Maya, Bhima’s granddaughter, has thrown it all away – the fool’s got herself pregnant. The only solution has to be an abortion, and the only one who can help is Sera.

Trouble: Sera is under the thumb of her abusive husband; and how far will loyalty between women go when it crosses the tie of an unhappy marriage?

Lush and graceful, this novel set in Bombay is just the book for the bedside. It’s leisurely in the telling, with a cunning subplot ready to engage you every time you pick it up.

Nothing is so engaging as a really nasty villain, and Umrigar has written a real doozy of a bad guy here. Highly recommended.


Billy, Come Home by Mary Rose Callaghan

Billy, Come Home
Mary Rose Callaghan
(Brandon €14.99)

FOR a while a couple of years ago, it seems the ads were pasted up all over Ireland – ads like: ‘Have you seen Billy Reilly? He left home on 25 September, wearing a pair of blue denim jeans…’

When the person wasn’t found, there was usually a rumour. “There’s more to that than you might think...”

Mary Rose Callaghan has made a novel of the themes these fluttering papers aroused, themes of loss, guilt, secrecy and otherness amid the safe middle classes of Dublin.

In her story, a schizophrenic man is fingered by locals when a young Traveller is stabbed to death.

Angie, the suspect’s sister and the first-person narrator, has a personality as beige as muesli – she’s even thinking of moving to the Church of Ireland, not because of religious passion but because the vicar’s nice.

The schizophrenic goes missing, the Guards find few leads – the usual thing. And everyone ‘knows’ what really happened.

Callaghan’s mutedly funny descriptions follow the suspect’s mousy sister as her life comes to pieces and she discovers her courage.

In a story that raises telling questions about the tigerish new Ireland, Callaghan uses the motif of the missing and the wrong to riff on a society gone soulless.


Saturday, 3 February 2007

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief
Markus Zusak
(Doubleday €??)

THE Book Thief would be a masterpiece if it were two-thirds shorter. But who am I to cavil - it's been hanging about the top of the world's bestseller lists for months, a nice place to be.

It's a great premise: a story set in Germany during World War II, from the point of view of a kid who's in the Hitler Youth (the girly version, the Bund Deutscher Madchen) but is visibly a good guy, because her communist parents have disappeared and she's fostered out.

And it's quirkily written, from the point of view of Death, who takes a shine to the kid when he comes across her on various occasions while going about his lawful business, sequacious of souls.

Young Liesel's obsession with books is a fitting one for a closet anti-Nazi, who observes the giant burnings and bullyings of a society dedicated to anti-intellectual oneness.

Death's observations, in bold type centred in the text every page or so, are charming at first, and by the end of the book had me grinding my teeth at their saccharine amn't-I-cleverness.

When Liesel is dropped off at Himmel Street, for instance, Death rams the irony home with the note:

Himmel = Heaven

The characters are transferred straight from the American teen movie: there's the feisty but bullied friend, the eccentric older lady mentor, the odd but lovable foster-dad and odd but somewhat less lovable foster-mom. And so on.

But don't let me put you off. This is a superseller, and people absolutely love it. I'm just an old sourpuss.