The Green Road by Anne Enright

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Anne Enright proves, yet again, that she is a writer of immense talent. This novel is set in rural Ireland, in the 1980s and 2000s. We are brought into the lives of the Madigan children It is a work of savage honesty and emotional intensity.

I was hooked from the first page, by the story of the dysfunctional Madigan siblings. Constance, Hannah, Dan and Emmet. The power of the story lies in the recognition we feel in certain aspects of the characters, there were lots of moments when the writing took my breath away, as I could connect what was happening in the narrative with aspects of people I knew.

Enright charts the lives of the children as they emerge to adulthood, forever overshadowed by the forceful, unpredictable personality of their mother. I thought the New York section of the story was very affecting and tenderly portrayed the Gay community in that city. For Enright, the past is not “a foreign country”, as L P Hartley put it, but rather it is alive and well and recognisable in the present, in the learned patterns of relating absorbed in the childhood home. The patterns of childhood are replicated in adult life.

I did not want this book to end and I was left thirsting to find out more about the Madigans, yet knowing that this novel is a work complete in itself. Anne Enright is an Irish writer to be treasured for her talent, her searing honesty and her ability to draw us into a story with the power of her writing. I highly recommend this novel.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

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What Was Promised by Tobias Hill

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A remarkable story set in a very bleak post war London. Unlike most books which romanticise this  period in British History, this book takes a different approach.  People were still practically starving and the capitol was in ruins – there’s nothing remotely glamorous about children playing in dangerous bomb sites orphans living rough.

Hill tells the story of native Londoners , Jewish immigrants,  immigrants from former British colonies, against a background of the London Markets.  colourful Petticoat lane and the bleak existence of the costermongers.  Very poignant with a strange not-altogether satisfying ending.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries catalogue here.

Brilliant Book Titles #116

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

Blurb:
A breathtaking literary debut, Love Letters of the Angels of Death begins as a young couple discover the remains of his mother in her mobile home. The rest of the family fall back, leaving them to reckon with the messy, unexpected death. By the time the burial is over, they understand this will always be their role: to liaise with death on behalf of people they love. They are living angels of death. All the major events in their lives births, medical emergencies, a move to a northern boomtown, the theft of a veteran s headstone are viewed from this ambivalent angle. In this shadowy place, their lives unfold: fleeting moments, ordinary occasions, yet on the brink of otherworldliness. In spare, heart-stopping prose, the transient joys, fears, hopes and heartbreaks of love, marriage, and parenthood are revealed through the lens of the eternal, unfolding within the course of natural life. This is a novel for everyone who has ever been happily married — and for everyone who would like to be.

Barkskins by Annie Proulx

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Real vintage Proulx , spanning centuries and telling the story of the destruction of the forests and ecosystem of Canada and north America.

Using a device she used in Accordion Crimes  she follows two families across the centuries.  It’s not an easy read and it’s very sad although it does end on a slightly hopeful note for the world we inhabit. It is very well researched as you would expect and very interesting culturally both European and Native American. It took me a while to read because of the breadth and sheer  numbers of characters but I was glad I persevered.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

5 New Literary Fictions to Watch Out For

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The Saints of Rattlesnake Mountain by Don Waters (22 May 2017)
Master storyteller Don Waters returns to the desert in his third book set in the American Southwest. With the gothic sensibility of Flannery O Connor and emotional delicacy of Raymond Carver, these nine contemporary stories deftly explore the lives of characters losing or clinging to a fleeting faith and struggling to find something meaningful to believe in beneath overpowering desert skies.
Soldiers, seekers, priests, prisoners, and surfers pursue their fate amid bizarre, sometimes overwhelming circumstances. In La Luz de Jesus, a gutless Los Angeles screenwriter, a believer in nothing but the god of Hollywood, must reorient after he encounters a group of penitents in New Mexico s Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The decorated soldier in Espanola faces more chaos back home than he did during his tour in Iraq. And The Saints of Rattlesnake Mountain pairs a trustee prison inmate and a wild mustang horse, both wards of the state of Nevada, as they fumble toward a spiritual truth.
These stories capture the spirit of a region and its people. Once again Waters assembles an unconventional cast of characters, capturing their foibles and imperfections, and always rendering them with compassion as these modern-day martyrs and spiritually haunted survivors strive for some kind of redemption.
Ingenious, sometimes forbidding, often absurd, and altogether original, The Saints of Rattlesnake Mountain is a stirring tribute to the lives, loves, and hopes of the faithful and the dispossessed.

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A Book of American Martyrs by Joyce Carol Oates (1 Jun 2017)
Two families. Two faces of America. An act of violence with far-reaching consequences.

Gus Voorhees is a pioneer in the advancement of women’s reproductive rights and a controversial abortion provider in the American Midwest. One morning as he arrives at his clinic, he is ambushed by a hardline Christian, Luther Dunphy, and shot dead.

The killing leaves in its wake two fatherless families: the Voorheeses, who are affluent, highly educated, secular and pro-choice, and the Dunphys, their opposite on all counts.
When the daughters of the two families, Naomi Voorhees and Dawn Dunphy, glimpse each other at the trial of Luther Dunphy, their initial response is mutual hatred. But their lives are tangled together forever by what has happened, and throughout the years to come and the events that follow, neither can quite forget the other.

A heart-rending reckoning with some of the most incendiary issues that divide us in our troubled times – religious extremism; abortion; gun violence; capital punishment – this is a novel Joyce Carol Oates was born to write. To read it is to encounter the full spectrum of humanity – its ugliness, misery, beauty and hope.

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Perennials by Mandy Berman (6 Jun 2017)
The quintessential summer read: a sharp, poignant coming-of-age novel about the magic of camp and the enduring power of female friendship, for readers of Stephanie Danler, Anton DiSclafani, Jennifer Close, and Curtis Sittenfeld
At what point does childhood end and adulthood begin? Mandy Berman’s evocative debut novel captures, through the lens of summer camp, a place that only appears to be untouched by the passing of time, both the thrills and pain of growing up.
Rachel Rivkin and Fiona Larkin used to treasure their summers together as campers at Camp Marigold. Now, reunited as counselors after their first year of college, their relationship is more complicated. Rebellious Rachel, a street-smart city kid raised by a single mother, has been losing patience with her best friend’s insecurities; Fiona, the middle child of a not-so-perfect suburban family, envies Rachel’s popularity with their campers and fellow counselors. For the first time, the two friends start keeping secrets from each other. Through them, as well as from the perspectives of their fellow counselors, campers, and families, we witness the tensions of the turbulent summer build to a tragic event, which forces Rachel and Fiona to confront their pasts–and the adults they’re becoming.
A seductive blast of nostalgia, a striking portrait of adolescent longing, and a tribute to both the complicated nature and the enduring power of female friendship, Perennials will speak to everyone who still remembers that bittersweet moment when innocence is lost forever.

Advance praise for Perennials
“Mandy Berman has remade the American summer camp narrative, ditching the usual cliches and getting in close with her characters and their various states of emotional and economic precariousness. Perennials is a sharp, crushingly observant, and empathetic debut, full of wit and tragedy, and good for all seasons.”–Sam Lipsyte, author of The Fun Parts and The Ask

“Mandy Berman explores an old trope: the magic of summer camp, a place separate from the rest of your life where you can become a slightly different version of yourself, a place where friendships run impossibly deep and romance and sex are innocent. But what happens when that divide begins to crumble, and real life, in all its moral ambiguity, finds its way to the heart of a halcyon summer? Lucid, psychologically nuanced, and great fun to read, Perennials has taken an old subject and made it new.”–Rufi Thorpe, author of Dear Fang, With Love and The Girls from Corona del Mar

“Snappy and irresistible, Berman’s debut novel, Perennials, takes readers back to summer camp, where her characters’ first friendships and treasons play out in sharp dialogue and playful, generous prose. Berman fearlessly renders youth and adulthood alike, in sentences you’ll want to savor.”–Kristopher Jansma, author of Why We Came to the City

“Do you remember that youthful summer when ‘everything changed’? Mandy Berman sure does and her wonderful novel is a snapshot of that time and the group of young women who are irrevocably changed by it. Perennials manages to be warm and loving and still wallop you with moments of shock and pain. What an exciting debut.”–Victor LaValle, author of Big Machine and The Changeling

“Berman’s debut, a winning, keenly observed, and clear-eyed novel set in a summer camp, captures the age when fierce attachments forged over years begin to unravel, passionate female friendships give way to sex, and identity seems to shift with the tides.”–Elissa Schappell, author of Blueprints for Building Better Girls

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How to Survive a Summer by Nick White (6 Jun 2017)
Camp Levi is designed to ‘cure’ young teenage boys of their budding homosexuality. Will Dillard spent a summer at Levi as a teenager, and has since tried to erase that experience from his mind. But when a fellow student alerts him that a slasher movie based on the camp is being released, he is forced to confront his troubled history and possible culpability in the death of a fellow camper. As past and present are woven together, Will returns to the abandoned campgrounds to solve the mysteries of that pivotal summer, and to reclaim his story from those who have stolen it.

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The Answers by Catherine Lacey (6 Jun 2017)
Huffington Post‘s 33 Titles To Add To Your Shelf in 2017
Elle‘s 25 Most Anticipated Books by Women for 2017
Buzzfeed‘s 32 Most Exciting Books Coming Out in 2017
Chicago Reader‘s Books We Can’t Wait To Read In 2017

An urgent, propulsive novel about a woman learning to negotiate her ailment and its various aftereffects via the simulacrum of a perfect romantic relationship

In Catherine Lacey’s ambitious second novel we are introduced to Mary, a young woman living in New York City and struggling to cope with a body that has betrayed her. All but paralyzed with pain, Mary seeks relief from a New Agey treatment called Pneuma Adaptive Kinesthesia, PAKing for short. And, remarkably, it works. But PAKing is prohibitively expensive and Mary is dead broke. So she scours Craigslist for fast-cash jobs and finds herself applying for the “Girlfriend Experiment,” the brainchild of an eccentric actor, Kurt Sky, who is determined to find the perfect relationship–even if that means paying different women to fulfill distinctive roles. Mary is hired as the “Emotional Girlfriend”–certainly better than the “Anger Girlfriend” or the “Maternal Girlfriend”–and is pulled into Kurt’s ego-driven and messy attempt at human connection.

Told in her signature spiraling prose, The Answers is full of the singular yet universal insights readers have come to expect from Lacey. It is a gorgeous hybrid of the plot- and the idea-driven novel that will leave you reeling.

 

The Dream of the Celt by Mario Vargas Llosa

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Possibly the best book I have read all year! , It is the little known story of Roger Casement’s activities as a champion for human rights in the Congo and later in Peru. His reporting on the atrocities and the suffering he endured in bringing them to public attention earned him his knighthood. In the book, he is in Pentonville Prison awaiting sentencing and it tells how his consular work on behalf of “The Empire” eventually convinces him of the criminality of colonialism. From this realisation he is consumed by the injustices perpetrated by the British in Ireland and how he tries to embrace his celtic origins .

The story of this virtually unsung hero of 1916 is told so poignantly it would make a great book club read; it covers so many controversial topics and taboos at the time that it created as big an impact as Oscar Wilde’s earlier trial.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

The Motel Life by Willy Vlautin

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This is the tale of two brothers from Reno who are not having a whole lot of luck.

Frank, who narrates the story is drunk in a motel room when his brother Jerry Lee (himself not sober) bursts in with news that will set them off on a path that you suspect is not going to end well.  This is a very short book but the characters of the brothers are very well drawn.  Bad things do not just happen to bad people and even though the brothers make some terrible choices, I found myself rooting for them.  The boys found themselves on their own at a young age and have never quite managed to get on an even keel.  I found Frank’s concern for his more vulnerable brother particularly touching.  Jerry Lee is a troubled soul who asks Frank to tell him stories to stop the bad thoughts which threaten to engulf him.  So Frank weaves tales of beautiful women and riches which could not be more different to the boys’ current predicament.

When I picked this book up I didn’t realise it was Vlautin’s first novel but I loved the easiness of the writing style and, although, short, it made quite an impression on me.  I have heard good things about Willy Vlautin’s “Lean on Pete” and I definitely plan to read that next.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

Straight Man by Richard Russo

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This novel by my much loved author Richard Russo has perhaps the funniest prologue to a book I have ever read! While explaining to us how he is not in fact a Straight Man,  Russo’s protagonist William Henry Devereaux gives us a wonderful anecdote about his stubbornness as a child, now a middle aged man he is the chairman of the English Department of a run down and underfunded college in Pennsylvania. He bumbles along without really caring taking potshots at his overly zealous and to his mind ridiculous colleagues.

In the course of a week after his wife goes away, he gets himself into all kinds of off the wall situations. Free to be the anarchist he will always be at heart. Russo paints a picture of small town American life like no other. He is often hilarious but also very tender in the treatment of his subjects. He explores relationships of all kinds in his customary thoughtful and humorous style. In short, Straight Man is classic Russo–side-splitting and true-to-life, witty, compassionate, and impossible to put down.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

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I avoided this booker prize-winning tale of the building of the Siam-Burma railway during the Second World War when it first came out; it’s a story which has been covered before e.g. in the classic movie “Bridge over the River Kwai” but this novel is more wide ranging and perhaps a more realistic telling of the story.

The central character of the book, Alwyn “Dorrigo” Evans is a bright, recently qualified surgeon from rural Tasmania, the first of his family to make it through school to a university education. He’s made the right connections both personally and professionally and is destined for greatness. WW2 intervenes and Dorrigo enlists and is sent to Adelaide for training. A chance encounter in a bookshop there leads to the most important relationship of his life. The war then intervenes and after a relatively uneventful campaign in the Middle East, Evans is sent to Java where his battalion is captured by the Japanese. We then get a harrowing and explicit account of the physical decline of the Australian P.O.W.s as they are mercilessly driven building the railway for the Japanese Empire. We also get the story and future destiny of the Japanese and Korean prison guards.

I found this a well-written interesting book, the story of a life set in an eventful period of history with an interesting twist in the end.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

5 New Literary Fictions

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Innocents and Others by Dana Spiotta (12 Jan 2017)
Meadow Mori and Carrie Wexler grew up together in Los Angeles, and both became film-makers.

Meadow makes challenging documentaries; Carrie makes successful feature films with a feminist slant. The two friends have everything in common – except their views on sex, power, movie-making and morality. And yet their loyalty trumps their different approaches to film and to life.

Until, one day, a mysterious woman with a unique ability to cold-call and seduce powerful men over the phone – not through sex, but through listening – becomes the subject of one of Meadow’s documentaries. Her downfall, and what makes her so extraordinarily moving, is that she pretends to be someone she is not.

Heart-breaking and insightful, Innocents and Others is an astonishing novel about friendship, identity, loneliness and art.

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Transit by Rachel Cusk (17 Jan 2017)
In the wake of her family s collapse, a writer and her two young sons move to London. The process of this upheaval is the catalyst for a number of transitions personal, moral, artistic, and practical as she endeavors to construct a new reality for herself and her children. In the city, she is made to confront aspects of living that she has, until now, avoided, and to consider questions of vulnerability and power, death and renewal, in what becomes her struggle to reattach herself to, and believe in, life.

Filtered through the impersonal gaze of its keenly intelligent protagonist, Transit sees Rachel Cusk delve deeper into the themes first raised in her critically acclaimed novel Outline and offers up a penetrating and moving reflection on childhood and fate, the value of suffering, the moral problems of personal responsibility, and the mystery of change.

In this second book of a precise, short, yet epic cycle, Cusk describes the most elemental experiences, the liminal qualities of life. She captures with unsettling restraint and honesty the longing to both inhabit and flee one s life, and the wrenching ambivalence animating our desire to feel real.

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The Blot by Jonathan Lethem (2 Feb 2017)
Alexander Bruno is a man with expensive problems.

Sporting a tuxedo and trotting the globe, he has spent his adult life as a professional gambler. His particular line of work: backgammon, at which he extracts large sums of money from men who think they can challenge his peerless acumen. In Singapore, his luck turned.

Maybe it had something to do with the Blot – a black spot which has emerged to distort Bruno’s vision. It’s not showing any signs of going away. In fact, it’s spreading, and as Bruno extends his losing streak in Berlin, it becomes clinically clear that the Blot is the symptom of something terrible. There’s a surgeon who can help, an elite specialist, the only one in the world. But surgery is going to involve a lot of money, and worse: returning home. To the land of ‘bullying, psychosis and bad taste’ otherwise known as contemporary America.

Specifically: the garish, hash-smoke streets of Berkeley, California. Here, the unseemly Keith Stolarsky – a childhood friend in possession of an empire of themed burger bars and thrift stores – is king. And he’s willing to help Bruno out. But there was always going to be a price.

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Autumn by Ali Smith (7 Feb 2017)

From the Man Booker shortlisted and Baileys Prize winning author of How to be both: a breathtakingly inventive new novel about aging, time, love, and stories themselves that launches an extraordinary quartet of books called Seasonal.
Readers love Ali Smith s novels for their peerless innovation and their joyful celebration of language and life. Her newest, Autumn, has all of these qualities in spades, and good news for fans! is the first installment in a quartet. Seasonal, comprised of four stand-alone books, separate yet interconnected and cyclical (as are the seasons), explores what time is, how we experience it, and the recurring markers in the shapes our lives take and in our ways with narrative. Fusing Keatsian mists and mellow fruitfulness with the vitality, the immediacy, and the color hit of Pop Art, Autumn is a witty excavation of the present by the past. The novel is a stripped-branches take on popular culture and a meditation, in a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, what harvest means.

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The Good People by Hannah Kent (9 Feb 2017)
County Kerry, Ireland, 1825.

NÓRA, bereft after the sudden death of her beloved husband, finds herself alone and caring for her young grandson Micheál. Micheál cannot speak and cannot walk and Nóra is desperate to know what is wrong with him. What happened to the healthy, happy grandson she met when her daughter was still alive?

MARY arrives in the valley to help Nóra just as the whispers are spreading: the stories of unexplained misfortunes, of illnesses, and the rumours that Micheál is a changeling child who is bringing bad luck to the valley.

NANCE’s knowledge keeps her apart. To the new priest, she is a threat, but to the valley people she is a wanderer, a healer. Nance knows how to use the plants and berries of the woodland; she understands the magic in the old ways. And she might be able to help Micheál.

As these three women are drawn together in the hope of restoring Micheál, their world of folklore and belief, of ritual and stories, tightens around them. It will lead them down a dangerous path, and force them to question everything they have ever known.

Based on true events and set in a lost world bound by its own laws, The Good People is Hannah Kent’s startling new novel about absolute belief and devoted love. Terrifying, thrilling and moving in equal measure, this long-awaited follow-up to Burial Rites shows an author at the height of her powers