Mixed bag this week: fiction, non-fiction, comedy and nature writing

It’s a mixed bag this week, of fiction, non-fiction, comedy and nature writing with a spiritual bent.

Understanding Learning Difficulties Differences, Ann Marie Lynch, Orpen Press, €14

Dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, intellectual difficulties, ADHD, dyspraxia, anxiety, autism, speech and language difficulties… there’s a long list of things that could be wrong with our kids and cause them to struggle in a classroom situation and with the world in general. Anne Marie Lynch has amassed a vast cache of expertise in these areas of difficulties for children and the general thrust of her book is to treat these conditions simply as differences, rather than as problematic issues.

She provides the reader with an overview of the most common learning differences and also provides advice on the supports that parents and teachers can supply in literacy, organisational skills, study skills and social skills. The advice in these areas is backed up with evidence of what works and what doesn’t, from the perspective of parents and teachers as well as, crucially, from the children themselves. This is a must-read for parents, teachers, SNAs and anyone working with additional needs students.

The Final Hours of Muriel Hinchcliffe, MBE, Claire Parkin, Macmillan, €24.99

Muriel and Ruth (or Moo and Roo!), both in their late 70s, have been lifelong friends and now find themselves living together in North London in their twilight years. Muriel is a renowned romantic novelist who doesn’t write any more due to her failing health. Ruth was a journalist and is now Muriel’s unofficial caregiver. When Muriel announces she’s going to be dead in 72 hours, Ruth doesn’t know what to think. And the stuff of the novel is backtracking on this friendship between the two that goes right back to their respective childhoods. It doesn’t take long to realise that this relationship is really one of ‘frenemies’ rather than friends. A long litany of betrayals, rivalries and jealousies have been simmering between this pair since forever. Add to that the fact that Ruth, who tells the story, proves herself to be an unreliable narrator and you’ll get a feel for how deliciously dark this story is, as well as being frequently funny.

Will Muriel really be dead in three days? A most enjoyable and original debut from a promising talent.

Sporting Moustaches, Aug Stone, Sagging Meniscus, €21

In this slim little volume of 13 short stories, the common denominator is the presence of facial hair among some sporting heroes (and non-heroes). It includes stories of shot drinking using only one’s moustache (rather than one’s hand) to lift the shot glass, and there’s a story of two hairy chess champions who each insist their opponent is using psychic powers. Whiskers are woven into ropes, arrow strings and even other whiskers.

It is of course a collection of funny yarns, something the publisher Sagging Meniscus specialises in, and although it’s enjoyable, I’m not sure if the target audience would be sports fans or hairy-faced men. Hairy-faced men are, in my experience, fellas who fancy themselves as artistic or creative, although they also include chefs. These days one can’t be a chef without being inked lavishly from eyelash to toenail. But do these hairy, tattooed entities make good sports fans? I have no idea. No matter, you’ll find plenty to laugh at in this odd anthology.

The Husbands, Holly Gramazio, Chatto and Windus, €16.99

Lauren, who is single, returns home after a party late one night to find a man she doesn’t know in it. Her home, that is. This in itself would pose a problem for most single women who live alone, but Lauren is to discover she’s married to this guy. He seems like a nice guy an’ all, but Lauren is, as far as she can remember, a single woman. Except she’s not. And when this guy goes to the attic to fix a light bulb, a different guy descends. And he’s now her husband. And when husband number two goes to the attic for something, a third guy descends. Her new husband! And so on and so on, so by the middle of the book Lauren is on husband number 160, but she’s still not found Mr Right. Every time something niggles at her, she simply sends her husband on an errand to the attic and someone different will return.

This debut novel is written by a game designer, and it shows. The endless choices in gaming – the new gun/ car/ house/ war, whatever you’re having yourself – is the premise of this story. Think Groundhog Day, but instead of waking up every morning to Sonny and Cher, you wake up to a different husband. Exhausting business. Definitely one for the gaming generation, but do they read books?

Twelve Sheep, John Connell, Allen and Unwin, €14.99

Twelve is a significant number, John Connell reminds us in his latest little beauty of a book. There are 12 months in the year, 12 zodiac signs, there were 12 apostles, as he points out. And so he bought 12 sheep from his father, to rear and mind and hopefully get 12 lambs from, after some farmyard frolicking with the ram. This is his story of emerging from a fallow period in his life; not quite a depression, but similar. He knew that taking care of a dozen sheep would be hard work (and it was) but hoped that in the doing he’d be lifted somehow from his torpor and would find renewal (and he did).

Connell’s previous books, starting with The Cow Book, have achieved acclaim that he didn’t expect, but with each one he has matured and mellowed into his role as a quiet, steady keeper of the land and the animals on his organic farm. He has much to say about the state of our society, its meanness, its near-slavery, its abuse of planet and people. But there is a lot of joy, too, and he draws from poets, writers and philosophers in his 12 short chapters. Don’t be fooled by the slightly kitsch chapter headings, this book is a meditation with depth and weight, beautifully written.


Ireland’s annual International Literature Festival kicks off in Merrion Square, Dublin on May 17 and runs up to the 26th, featuring lots of conversations with famous authors and some unconventional literary experiences for the whole family. Definitely something for everyone here. See ilfdublin.com for programme and tickets.