It's all fiction this week, with 'hopefully something for everyone'

It’s another mixed bag this week and it’s all fiction, hopefully something for everyone.

The Lost Love Songs of Boysie Singh, Ingrid Persaud, Faber, €21

The setting is Trinidad in the 1950s and true-life gangster Boysie Singh reigns with a terrifying hand around the Port of Spain. Singh was notorious and merciless and yet had some kind of charisma when it came to women; the typical ‘bad-boy’, if you like, but taken to murderous extremes. Except for his son, he was not capable of love or compassion, but seemed to inspire love and loyalty among his ‘girls’. This magnificent work of fiction focuses on the women in Singh’s life, his love songs of the title. They are old friend, Rosie, a prostitute called Popo, the mother of his child Mana Lala, and the woman he married, Doris.

The cultural, religious and superstitious melting pot of 1950s Trinidad is expertly wrought, and so is the criminal underbelly in which Singh was so immersed. His treatment of his women was as contemptuous as his treatment of the human race in general, and although he deserved neither these women’s love nor loyalty, that’s what he got. This remarkable story of the women behind the monster, a second novel from a writer who won the Costa Award for her first, is utterly absorbing and despite its brutal subject, beautifully written.

Spirit Level, Richy Craven, Eriu, €12.99

A modern-day ghost story is the stuff of Craven’s debut novel. Nudge, who died in a car accident that his friend Danny survived, is ‘stuck’ between this world and the next and returns to Danny, only when Danny’s had a few drinks, to enlist Danny’s help in moving on. Danny is a 20-something with not much sense of direction. He shares a cramped apartment, works in the local Spar and neither his working life nor his love life is anything to write home about, and anyway, home is a place where he’s seen as a mighty disappointment. But home is where he ends up, in the bosom of his disappointed but concerned family, in an attempt to recuperate from the accident and also from the emotional burden of survivor’s guilt.

Mental health, in particular men’s mental health, is explored throughout the novel but is handled delicately and not without humour. Drinking to excess is also a theme, wrought by the fact that Danny can only see and communicate with Nudge when he’s hammered; he can only summon the spirit by drinking spirits!

He’s intent on helping Nudge become ‘unstuck’ and on the journey encounters some hilarious charlatans posing as mediums and spiritualists, as well as a few more ghosts along the way. It’s original, quirky, funny and full of heart.

You are Here, David Nicholls, Sceptre, €16.99

Midlife romance, or maybe the lack of it, is what Nicholls’ latest novel is all about. Michael, a geography teacher in his 40s, has decided to walk 200 miles across Britain to distract himself from his recent divorce. His friend Chloe organises a small walking party to accompany him, for some of the journey at least. One of the party is another friend of Chloe’s, copy editor Marnie, who’s also divorced.

Marnie works from home and is acutely ashamed of just how lonely her life has become. This could have been an awful sop of a novel if not left in Nicholl’s deft hands. Instead it’s another work from Nicholls of riotous comedy and profound humanity.

The walking route is mapped out meticulously throughout the story, and tourist England is not always shown in a flattering light. There are duvets probably made of fibreglass and asbestos pillows in the bedrooms of obscure inns, places that wouldn’t win any prizes, but they make for good comedy.

This unlikely pair are not attracted to each other at first and it’s a very slow burn, but a most enjoyable one. The book is being raved about in all corners, Nicholls can do no wrong (and you won’t get any argument from me), and it’s just the tonic if you’re not feeling too summery these days. A gorgeous work from a master storyteller.

Quickly, While They Still Have Horses, Jan Carson, Doubleday, €16.99

Jan Carson is another writer who seems incapable of hitting a wrong note with her fiction. Her novel The Fire Starters won the European Prize for Literature and her previous short stories have won and being shortlisted for almost everything. There’s a distinct Northern slant to all her material but she has really nailed the whole ‘world in a grain of sand’ phenomenon. Her stories are local, full of Northern vernacular, but their appeal is never less than universal and this latest anthology is superb.

She’s not afraid to include some old-fashioned magical realism either, and in a story titled ‘Grand So’, the ghost of an old man, who was the previous owner of a second-hand car, appears only to the new owner’s grandchild. He’s mean-looking and taciturn, a typical cranky oul’ fella, but this ghost manages to save the child’s and granny’s life amid the Troubles of the 1980s.

Not all of her characters are so noble, however, and the narrator of ‘A Certain Degree of Ownership’ is truly horrific and yet so ordinary. Could this really be me or you? In the title story, a man’s Spanish partner, who steadfastly refuses to travel to Belfast to meet his family, changes her mind when she finds out the ‘last horses in Britain’ are to be found there. It doesn’t end well! A collection to return to.


The Cork Midsummer Festival runs from June 13 to 23 and this year sees the return of The Proms to Cork Opera House. There’s a lot more besides, definitely worth a visit, see for full details.

Exiled Dubs now living in ‘the sticks’ might be interested in The Stoneybatter Festival, a community festival running from 21 to 23 of June. There’s everything here, from cooking to book readings to trips down ‘the rare oul’ times’ with some of the older Stoneybatter citizens recalling a different Dublin to the current one. There’s even a tea dance! And plenty for the kids. See for details.