Tuesday, 24 February 2009
WHITE witchcraft in the mountains of Ireland, a straying husband whose sudden death reveals his secret life to a loving wife - Cathy Kelly is in business again.
Star Bluestone is the last of a family of women who have lived a pagan life in the middle of Christian Ireland for centuries. From her house in a grove of trees - each one planted by a Bluestone woman for a lover - she nurtures the troubled women of her country town.
Ingrid is a star journalist. But TV is a cruel world, and she’s watching her female colleagues replaced by the blonde of the moment, while the male presenters’ wrinkles give them gravitas.
Charlie Fallon works in the extraordinary art gallery and shop run by Ingrid’s husband. But her life is ruled by her old mother, once a famous feminist, now the most traditional kind of dictatorial materfamilias.
Ingrid’s daughter’s friend, Natalie, is looking for the truth about her own mother - who died long ago, after making her friends swear that they would not impose her life as a burden on her daughter.
It’s vintage Kelly territory, full of misunderstandings and anger and warmth and cosiness and passion.
And it’s a book for those who believe in love. Who said romantic Ireland was dead and gone?
Buy Once in a Lifetime on Amazon.co.uk
Penguin Ireland €16.19
A BITTER man writes a user’s manual for his (former) wife. In a row of toilets at a wedding, a bride wrestles to free herself of the hoops on her dress, knowing that the groom and the bridesmaid her mother foisted on her are having sex in the end cubicle.
Colm Liddy recently told a radio interviewer that when he goes out for a few drinks with a friend in Clare, he’s likely to end up in the toilet himself, rapidly taking notes for one of these stories.
His fights between husbands and wives track marital annoyance through the ages and across countries.
Edgar Allen Poe makes his appearance as a chance-met passenger on a train, who tells his fellow-travellers a horrible story. A Virginia cotton magnate’s son crashes from the balcony of his home. The parents try everything to mend his broken body.
Their failure drives the magnate to drink and bankruptcy, and he returns at last to find that his child has been suspended in childhood by a mesmerist. Breaking the child’s trance, the father watches in horror as his body transforms in moments into an adolescent’s, and he dies.
You’d have to wonder what kind of drinks they’re serving in Clare.
Unmissable stores, the products of a wonderfully creative storyteller.
Wednesday, 18 February 2009
Corgi Books €10.79
THE BEST, the most magical stories are the ones that go back to the myths - like The Last Concubine.
Japan in the 19th century, still a feudal society. Sweet-natured Sachi, a foundling taken in by a kindly peasant family, looks utterly unlike the people of her village - she has an aristocratic pallor and brilliant green eyes.
Spotted by the starmakers of the imperial court, Sachi is chose to become the royal concubine, the shogun’s deputy wife.
But the shogun, a dreamy boy manipulated by courtiers, goes to war against the southerners who want to restore the emperor.
Japan rises, and seething crowds chant “Ee ja nai ka?” - “Who gives a damn?”
It gradually becomes apparent that Sachi herself is not who or what she seems.
This is chicklit as thriller, with a story that opens out like a series of puzzle boxes.
Engrossing, beautifully written and a little weird, it’s a compelling story. There is even - for Irish people - a curiosity: a legend of a hero who is lured away to dance and play for three years, then returns to find he’s been gone for 300 years.
Stranger still, his name, Urashima, sounds very like Oisín when you pronounce it the Japanese way.
MURDER in the English style, complete with house parties, cosy vegetable gardens, proper tea in teapots - it has to be Agatha Christie.
But hold - is that a graphic novel? It is!
The story comes from the Agatha Christie stable, and trots along with the familiar gait: discontent with the growing permissiveness of society - it was published in 1969; approval of unimaginative, conformist, tweedy, caste-bound lives.
The victim is a liar and a fantasist, a young teenager who claims to have witnessed a murder long ago.
No sooner are the words out of her mouth than her head is in the apple-bobbing bucket, and that’s all she wrote.
Hercule Poirot, moustaches a-twitch, is soon on the scene and discovering a village awash with dastardliness.
The drawings owe a lot to the styling of the Agatha Christie’s Poirot TV series. They don’t make up for the lack of Christie’s own hackneyed but compelling descriptions.
This is one of a series of Christie’s most famous murder mysteries re-imagined as graphic novels.
It’s an idea that has its parallel in Belgium, where a series of Proust’s A La Recherche du Temps Perdu offered, well, a recherché charm.
It can only be weeks before someone brings out Finnegans Wake, The Graphic Novel, Penned by Shem.
Tuesday, 10 February 2009
New Island €8.99
USEFUL right now, this is a fantastic guide to being a keen green mean machine.
With the emphasis on ‘mean’.
Mary Mulvihill’s guide to living sustainably has 101 tips, most of which save you money.
The default settings on printers use too much ink. “Do you really need to print your airline confirmation in full colour?”
No you don’t! Mulvihill says to set your printer to black-only to save on dear colour cartridges, and select the ‘draft’ setting, or 300 dpi if you’re using a laser printer, and the toner saver option if there is one, and your ink and money will go twice as far.
Some of her ideas are a step too far for me - drying yourself all over with a facecloth after a bath, erk.
Others are brilliant, like freezing surplus cream in ice-cube trays, then dropping a cube into soup as needed.
She has truly scary information: the world supply of hafnium (used in computer chips) could be gone in 2017, as could indium, used in LCDs and flat screen TVs. Recycle, she says, while we still have stuff to recycle.
This book is the perfect present for anyone with even the palest streak of green in their makeup.
ONCE in a while a thrilling author loses the thrill. Breakneck was like that for me.
It starts with a computer hacker murdered for his password. He or his friends have stolen $500,000 he happened to find lying around in a bank account.
Investigating the killing is detective ‘MC’ (Mary Catherine) Riggio, a nice girl from a big Catholic Italian family who’s about to marry the man of her dreams.
Then he’s killed. Then MC’s cousin Tommy is killed.
It should be thrilling. But somehow it all felt ho-hum. It was as if the writer was working from a formula.
She finally lost me when - after yet another murder - MC and her partner arrive at a suburban house garlanded with crime scene tape and surrounded by police cars.
They go in to interview the grieving parents, who tell them that the kids haven’t been told yet. The idea that anyone could conceal such delightfully gruesome excitement from a house full of kids is just not tenable.
There is a pleasingly evil bad guy, and Spindler has done her research about the shadowy world of the hackers.
And the life of big extended Italian families that love and protect every sister, kid and cousin.
If you love the subterranean world of the cracker, but long for a pasta-packing mama, you’ll love Breakneck.
Sunday, 1 February 2009
Bloomsbury €12.99 (Easons price)
MARY Boulton is bolting. She’s killed her husband - it’s not clear why, but there seems to have been a baby involved - and she’s on the run, pursued by his implacable red-headed rifle-toting giant twin brothers across the wilds of 1903 Canada.
So far so good.
Gil Adamson’s first novel was 10 years in the writing, and it is a honed and crafted piece of work.
As ‘the widow’ flees from shelter to shelter, the writing is impeccable, beautifully observed. But somehow I didn’t warm to the story.
Mary takes shelter first with an old widow who takes in waifs and strays, then, disappearing in the night with the widow’s mare and some valuables, she wanders starving and crazy through the mountains.
As she meets other strangers to life, we’re given glimpses of her life with her late husband - marital rapes, dying baby, gambling.
We discover her childhood in the black-bordered home of a depressive minister in mourning for his dead wife.
The Canadian libraries’ candidate for the IMPAC award, this comes with impeccable credentials.
It’s soaked in turn-of-the-century authenticity, and calls up a more realistic version of the world celebrated in a thousand cowboy movies.
An interesting new writer - let’s see what she does next.
Headline Review €14.99
GRITTY isn’t what you expect of Pauline McLynn - Mrs Doyle in Father Ted, and now starring in October by Fiona Looney in the Olympia.
But in Missing You Already she’s taken on the icy subject of Alzheimer’s.
Probably not a good idea in these testing times - look back to the 1930s, when all anyone wanted to see on the screen was the rich having a great time.
Still, she wasn’t to know that someone would pull a loose thread in the economy and the whole thing would unravel.
The story: Kitty Fulton’s job is minding the lost. She runs the ticket office in a train station in rural England, and loves to reunite the absent-minded with their absent possessions.
But at home, her mother May is going absent in another way. She’s hiding the fact that she can’t read the clock, can’t remember if she’s eaten, can’t control her body - or her mind.
And when she finally admits it, she tells Kitty: when I swim out in the Red Sea, don’t try to bring me back.
The new town librarian, Simon Hill, is drifting into Kitty’s life - as she loses one love, she finds another.
Not a comforting read, but a sadly realistic story.