Book Review

First Chapter with Anne Cunningham.

This week there’s a story of a child who turns into a dinosaur and another of an old lady who turns into a firebrand social activist. There’s the latest from an English-Indian Booker Prize shortlisted novelist, and there are two self-help manuals.

Sleep Well, Fiona Brennan, Gill, €18.99

Subtitled ‘8 Habits to Help you Fall Asleep, Stay Asleep and Wake Up Refreshed’, this manual promises to teach insomnia sufferers the art of sleeping well. The crux of it all is an eight-week programme, where a person is transformed from a poor sleeper to a talented snoozer! But it takes some effort on the reader’s side, too. It’s important that the instructions are followed, and unlike some other books on the subject, this book gives the reader links to specific Sleep Well audio sites that help with the problem. The benefits of good rest are obvious to anyone, but the overall impact of poor sleeping is very scary indeed. Something to think about while you’re attempting to drift off…

The author regularly contributes to Newstalk and The Business Post and is a qualified practitioner in Lifestyle Medicine and Positive Health from the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin. Definitely a book for the insomniac in your life.

Choice, Neil Mukherjee, Atlantic, €17.99

This is a grim trilogy of stories, loosely tied together, about precisely how little choice is afforded to people who do not have the means, either monetarily, psychologically, or socially, to make the choices that they should be able to make. Ayush is one half of a gay couple, rearing two children in upper middle-class Britain. His partner comes from money, but Ayush definitely doesn’t. He is living his comfortable and well-heeled life, while being ‘at war with his own world’. Environmental destruction and climate poverty haunt his almost every thought. Emily is in a cab involved in a hit-and-run and agonises over whether to report the incident, when she discovers that her driver is an illegal Eritrean who was covering for his brother on the night in question, a man on dialysis desperately waiting on a kidney donation. In the third story, a family living in west Bengal are gifted a cow as part of a social experiment. Here the author’s description of rural poverty is heart-wrenching. This is not a light read, but Mukherjee is a fine writer, and has tapped into a kind of collective guilt of expats living comfortably in the West, while haunted by the destitution in their homeland.

You’re Not The Problem, Helen Villiers/Katie McKenna, Yellow, Kite €18.99

The lid has now been lifted somewhat on the scourge of domestic violence, but less is said about coercive control, and much of that control is perpetrated by narcissistic individuals. Subtitled ‘The Impact of Narcissism and Emotional Abuse and How to Heal’, this book is essential reading for anyone who is, or has been, at the mercy of a narcissist. Narcissism in a parent or parental figure can ruin the life of a child every bit as much as any other kind of abuse, and that child can find themselves repeating patterns of behaviour that confirm their sense of personal inadequacy and uselessness they were taught to believe as children. And, like most forms of abuse, children left scarred by an abuser can become abusers themselves. In short, children with narcissistic parents can, and very well might, grow up themselves to be narcissistic adults.

This book seeks to circumvent the myriad problems associated with victims of narcissistic abuse. Both authors are psychotherapists with extensive experience in the area and here they set out a practical framework for how to spot unhealthy behaviour and how to go about getting help, the first premise being that the victim is indeed not the problem.

The Lodgers, Eithne Shortall, Corvus, €11.99

If you enjoyed Ciara Geraghty’s Make Yourself at Home (and I did) you’ll also enjoy this novel (and I did), published in paperback last month. When Tessa takes a fall in her Howth home, her family are concerned. She’s almost 70 years old and rattling around in her house alone. The idea of moving to a care home or retirement community is not for Tessa, she’d rather be dead. So a compromise is reached when she agrees to take in lodgers. If anything should happen to her, at least she wouldn’t be left lying behind the front door for days on end. Enter Conn and Chloe. Conn is an out-of-work lawyer just recently returned from Dubai. Where he goes at night is anyone’s guess, and Conn’s not saying. Chloe is an innocent abroad who has spent years caring for her ailing mother and she seems not to be of this world at all.

When it looks like the town hall is going to be bulldozed by developers who have plans to build a hotel on the site, Tessa swings into action and forms a committee to oppose the demolition. There are shades here of the Sandra Bullock movie, Two Weeks’ Notice, but I digress. Tessa’s band of brothers and sisters, a right motley crew if ever there was one, get to work. It’s a funny and sometimes sad story, emphasising the absolute necessity of human connection.

Dinosaur Pie, Jen Wallace, Little Island, €9.99

A novel here aimed at the 6+ readers, this story explores ADHD and celebrates difference among our kids. Although it reminded this reader a little of Kafka’s story Metamorphosis, it’s a lot funnier. Young Rory wakes up one morning and discovers he’s turned into a dinosaur (thank God it’s not an insect!). He can’t manage to play on his games console with his dinosaur claws, his breath smells terrible and he’s got an insatiable craving for sausages. His friends are finally convinced it’s him (it was touch and go for a while) and eventually they band together to launch Operation Make Rory Human Again. But will it work? Deftly illustrated by Alan O’Rourke, this should keep the kids amused on a rainy summer afternoon.


Lismore Castle in Waterford hosts the Blackwater Valley Opera Festival from May 27 to June 3 and tickets are flying. See for details.

Listowel Writers Week tickets are also selling out fast, and so is accommodation. Check for details if you plan to go.