The first I heard of Dermot Healy was in June 2014. A friend of mine was asked to read through poems to be considered for selection in the Dermot Healy International Poetry Competition. The next day, it was reported on the national news that he had passed away. It had been remarked by another one of my of friends that his work never got the recognition and success it deserved, that he was a much more “interesting” writer than his peers. Interesting can sometimes mean, “you’re not going to understand this…. You thickie!”. I began reading Long Time, No See. Immediately, I got a jolt: the words on the page were formatted like poetry and none of the dialogue was in inverted commas. I was reluctant to continue as my eyes and brain were in for a different exercise regime. However, my desire to be a know-it-all won through and I’m so glad I persevered. This is one of the best books I have ever read. Set in an Irish coastal rural community,it starts slowly with a young man visiting his grand uncle. Nothing happens for about six pages but I was enjoying the unusual format and the peculiar habits of the locals. Then something small happens and the story has you gripped. His descriptions of the landscape are beautifully minute and familiar. The language of the characters is real and humorous. The main character is a young man dealing with a tragedy that is intermittently revealed. It is about life, death and relationships’, each is given its weight from the cosmic to the banal and leaves you not wanting to leave these people or the place they live. Ten out of ten for Dermot Healy. I’m really sorry he is gone. I would have liked to have written to him to tell him how much I enjoyed his book. His earlier books are out of print but Dublin City Public Libraries do have copies to lend.
Review by Pembroke Library Reading Group is set in Canada – the narrator has grown up in remote rural East Ontario, and has studied in Toronto, where she is now a lecturer.The story looks at how four children cope in the year after the sudden death of their parents. The oldest, Luke, 19, has given up teacher training to bring up his sisters, aged 7 and 1½. At the end of the year Matt, 18, has secured a scholarship, but has to take responsibility for the pregnancy of Marie Pye, the orphaned girl next door, and exchanges an academic career for fatherhood and running a farm.The narrator, Kate, is 7 at the time of their parents’ death and very attached to Matt. Members of their community step in to help and the boys work for Mr. Pye next door after school. The Pyes have a multi-generational dysfunctional history of fathers bullying their children. Tragic circumstances bring Matt and Marie Pye together.Kate looks back on her childhood at an important point in her life – she is in her mid-twenties, at the beginning of a promising academic career and in love. She understands that if she continues to keep her man away from her family she will lose him. Contact with her family is diminished after leaving. For years she didn’t have the funds to return home for holidays. But we learn there is a bigger divide – as the only child in academia, she feels a mixture of guilt and embarrassment. She believes that Matt has been robbed of the university career that was rightfully his, and feels embarrassed that she now knows more of the subject he introduced her to as a child. She fears that bringing her boyfriend (who is a professor) to her family home will widen the gap between her past rural family life and promising academic life further. There is a strong family belief in education as the road to leading a fulfilled life and has been the cornerstone of the family’s goals.At the end of the book Marie Pye, her sister in law, has helped Kate to open her eyes to the fact that Matt’s life is fulfilled too and Kate is able to revise her child’s eye version of her family’s history. After the trauma of the sudden loss of her parents, followed by what she sees as Matt’s betrayal of his prospects (and a bit of jealousy for having to share him), and living away from her family for so many years as a young adult, she had not yet been in a position to appreciate the love and commitment of her brothers, who kept the family together under very difficult circumstances. This was the other, equally important cornerstone of her family heritage, and had also been told as part of the family story around the education goal: their father’s older brothers had worked so he could study and once he was earning he supported them when their farms were in trouble.The story of the family and life in East Ontario is well told. The description of Kate as a young adult and her dilemma followed by her reviewing her belief system is a bit thin and not helped by the extreme contrast of her life compared to her boyfriend’s. Parallels to Kate’s family life are drawn in the research done by Kate, in which she reduces the surface tension of the water a pond skater inhabits, to examine to what level and for how long it can stay. A student giving up her course because she is afraid she is becoming too different from her rural family provides a contrast. Another contrast is provided by Kate’s boyfriend, who seems considerate and balanced despite having had a childhood with very little emotional input by his parents, in privileged circumstances which were the reverse of Kate’s.Pembroke Library Book ClubPembroke Library has two book clubs that each meet once a month.Are you interested in joining a Book Club? We have plenty of options for book lovers to get together and talk about books in Dublin City Public Libraries!Writers Mary Lawson (middle) and David Parks (right) in conversation with Vanessa O'Loughlin at Dublin Writers' Festival Event, Pearse Street Library on Tuesday 20 May 2014. See more photos of this event on flickr.
Review by Bookends Reading Group, Cabra LibraryGerry, the Librarian who (very ably) looks after our Reading Group, suggested we read Memento Mori for this Bealtaine Books review submission on the basis that we might enjoy it as it is a funny book. We almost all did find it funny to varying degrees although, interestingly, Gerry himself didn’t enjoy it. In summary the book is about a group of interconnected old people who start to receive phone calls reminding them that they must die from an unidentified caller who sounds different to each hearer.Patricia loved the title and cover, but due to other commitments didn’t get time to read it as well as the other two books we read that month. Grace was not mad about it but Noreen described it as a little gem. Marian found it very funny and particularly loved the geriatrician character. Ada said she got a great laugh from the book and loved all the characters. Sheila enjoyed all the characters as they were well-drawn and had great back stories but considered the ending did not do justice to the book and not because there was no unveiling of the phone caller but more because it just petered out. Ada also did not like the ending. Noreen made the point that although the book deals with serious issues like getting old and the quality of health services and could have been morbid, it certainly wasn’t. We were all of the view that it was a book that would appeal more to an older readership and wondered about Muriel Spark’s connection with the elderly as it was published in her very early 40s. It comes across as a book by someone who sees the elderly and infirm as retaining all the characteristics, concerns and relevance that applied to them as young adults. Marian was struck by the lack of intergenerational contact within the book – even the former police inspector they consult and the carer hired for Charmian are elderly. It is noteworthy that the one young character who accompanied them on the visit to the retired inspector is remonstrated with by his wife for failing to assist them in making their way from car to house.Grace considered that Charmian had a very pleasant form of dementia that was removed from reality and we concluded that it was probably not real dementia but more of a coping mechanism that she had developed for dealing with her husband. Sheila though it interesting that even though Charmian still viewed Taylor’s thwarted relationship with Alec Warner as a tragedy, for the woman herself it was no longer a source of any regret whatsoever, thus pointing up how the importance of events changes with the passage of time.Although the level of enjoyment of Memento Mori varied, we all agreed that we would definitely like to read more by Muriel Spark.Bookends Book ClubBookends Book Club meet once a month in Cabra Library. Are you interested in joining a book club? We have plenty of options for book lovers to get together and talk about books in Dublin City Public Libraries!