This week there’s a novel about how dementia picks two lives apart, piece by piece, not just the sufferer, but his wife as well. There are two fine debut novels, one a crime thriller and the other proving it’s a long, long way from Hollywood to here (or vice versa). There’s a novel about early motherhood that could only be described as fierce, and there’s a quirky romance set on a Christmas tree farm.
Tides Go Out, Julian Vignoles, Orpen Press, €12.99
Secrets have a knack of uncovering themselves at the most inappropriate of times, and secrets are a big part of this novel. Con is a middle-aged media type with a successful career in TV and radio production. The lives of Con and his schoolteacher wife Fiona are shattered by his diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s. They decide to take a road trip around Ireland, just to digest the news and to spend what might be their last holiday together, or at least the last that Con will remember. But his deterioration is rapid.
After a scene of violence (and Con has never before been violent), it’s time to have him put away, much the consternation of his family. And then a Danish woman flies into town to say her goodbyes to Con, leaving Fiona reeling but also acutely aware of the secrets she herself has been keeping. Quite apart from the story, the novel is salt-and-peppered with all kinds of allusions to literature, music, art and Con’s beloved city of Cork. Highly recommended.
A Lie of Omission, MA Purcell, Poolbeg Crimson, €16.99
Thomas Teegan, also known as Trout, is only six weeks retired as a DI in the gardaí when he gets a phone call in the middle of the night, but someone has mistaken him for someone else and the caller sounds like he’s being shot. A trip to a nearby bog the following day with an old friend finds Trout and his pal stumbling over a dead body that hasn’t been there long. It appears the phone call of the previous night and this shooting are connected. How many murders happen on the same night in rural County Clare? Trout’s suspicions are on high alert, but he’s also reminded that this kind of thing is no longer his problem – he’s retired. But as an old colleague of his remarks: “You can retire a detective but you can’t stop him thinking!”
This is a first-rate ‘cosy crime’ novel with plenty of amusing banter, along with wine, coffee and intrigue. Think Richard Osman with a west of Ireland brogue. An impressive debut.
The Chancer, Fiona Graham, Sonny & Skye, €12.99
Donnie McNamara is sick of his little west of Ireland hometown. He was born to be a star, he just knows it. And so he heads for the bright lights of LA, only to find that the streets of Hollywood are not paved with gold. And that his acting skills, such as they are, do not really reflect what America is looking for in 1989. He teams up with burnt-out ex-celebrity Abe and they form a bond of sorts. The story takes us through Donnie’s misadventures in the Land of Opportunity where he simply can’t find one.
The plot here is vaguely similar to that of Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan, but without McDonagh’s depth or resonance. That said, it’s an entertaining romp about the world of film from someone who has worked in the world of film, and would likely make a solid comic movie.
Lovelight Farms, BK Borison, Pan Books €12.99
Stella has inherited her grandfather’s much-loved Christmas tree farm. But the farm’s decline in recent years means Stella has inherited more of a liability than an asset. She’s prepared to put in the hard work to return it to commercial success. Problem is, although she has the best of intentions and plans, she doesn’t have the necessary cash. She enters a contest to win $100,000 of investment money but has lied on her entry form, saying she runs the farm with her boyfriend. Stella doesn’t have a boyfriend. Just a friend, Luka, who has zero romantic notions. A charming little romcom for fans of the genre.
Soldier Sailor, Claire Kilroy, Faber, €16.99
Motherhood, not as a vocation, but as a raw, visceral, round-the-clock macabre merry-go-round of exhaustion and despair is the stuff of this novel, narrated by otherwise unnamed Soldier (the mother) who is addressing her baby son, Sailor. The only thing that stops this new mam from killing herself or her child (though I’d have cheered her on for killing her worse-than-useless husband) is her consuming and obsessive, almost violent love for her tiny boy. This is mud in the eye to those ads – we all know them – portraying white-clad, fragrant mothers of white-clad, spotless babies, hawking everything from soap suds to powdered milk in a world of la-la make-believe.
This novel is motherhood in the real world, with all the screaming fits and fevers, all the bangs and falls, all the feeding spoons sent into orbit, the pukes, the dubious nappies, the myriad crises of every single day and, ever more so, every night. How we survive it is beyond me. My only gripe with this superb novel is the cardboard cut-out whinger of a husband. He is utterly useless on all fronts, and when he gets behind a steering wheel, even with Baby in the back seat, he drives like a homicidal basket case. Soldier’s stumbling over an old school friend, a father playing the role of mother to his own baby, is the only grain of sanity in her wretched existence. If you’re at that time of life when you’re feeling broody, maybe you should read this first!
The Hill of Uisneach in Westmeath is hosting a midsummer event on June 21, Summer Solstice on the Hill, an evening of stories and reflections on our ancient heritage. See uisneach.ie for details.
The Beyond the Pale festival of music, food and art takes place between June 16 to 18 in one of the loveliest landscapes in the country, Glendalough. See itsbeyondthepale.ie for details.