New Irish fiction
Published Friday, March 13, 2009, 2:06 PM
Updated Thursday, July 23, 2009, 5:53 PM
An Irish Country Village
By Patrick Taylor
In the sequel to the New York Times bestseller "An Irish Country Doctor," Taylor takes us back to the aggressively cheerful sounding village of Ballybucklebo. Try to be unhappy in a town land with such a melodious faux Celtic name and you’ll be soundly defeated, which is the point of this blatantly escapist fare.
Faster than you can say “Begod, that’s a powerful lump of a summer’s day,” the young doctor at the center of this beguiling tale is meeting all the colorful locals and hearing all about their colorful folk cures. Meanwhile, Patricia, the young love of his life is on the brink of winning an engineering scholarship to Cambridge University, which means he may soon have to choose to follow her or lose what may be the love of his life. What’s a boy to do? Surrender to the joyously quirky Irish countryside and its loveably eccentric denizens, of course - you’ll either be charmed or homicidal by the end of this frothy tale.
The Holy City
By Pat McCabe
The Holy City is Pat McCabe’s ninth novel and it features a hero with an utterly hilarious name: Chris McCool. A sixties throwback, now in his sixties, McCool once cut quite a dash – he tells us – “in the smartest of neat blue blazers with brightly polished brass buttons, complete with white loafers and razor-creased grey slacks, a Peter Stuyvesant King Size cigarette (the international passport to smoking pleasure!) louchely dawdling between my lips.” Oh God, you tell yourself, this is a Pat McCabe novel, and that’s a looming iceberg if ever you saw one. Nothing is quite as it appears of course, but this much is certain: few contemporary Irish writers possess McCabe’s narrative facility or intoxicating modernity.
By Hugo Hamilton
Hugo Hamilton writes as if his life depended on it. There’s a fierce and undeniable urgency in his prose that seizes you from the opening sentence of his latest novel to its remarkable conclusion. Some of this must stem from his own upbringing, as the son of a German mother and a militantly Irish father who insisted the family speak Irish or German (but never English).
His latest book concerns itself with how identity is constructed, and on this - thanks to his upbringing - he has more to say than others. Hamilton demonstrates how easily ancestral secrets, often long ago interred, can still endure and shape us. His work centers on acts of remembering, and bringing to light, and in doing so he achieves moments of near miraculous delicacy and clarity. "Disguise" is a book about finding the self, and Hamilton writes hauntingly about the challenges and rewards of that quest.
Harper Collins, $23.99.
By Mary Pat Kelly
It’s impossible to understate Mary Pat Kelly’s achievement in her new novel "Galway Bay." An evocation of the Great Hunger and the mass exodus to America that followed in its wake, the epic scale of Kelly’s canvas is a thing to marvel at.
When blight destroys the subsistence diet of the Irish, two million refugees are forced by circumstances and a callous government to make a journey to a new home. In "Galway Bay" we meet Honora Keeley and her husband Michael Kelly, fiercely independent souls determined to make the most of their fates.
Spanning 60 years, Kelly’s novel shines a brilliant light on the impressive heritage of the 40 million people who claim Irish ancestry here. Few authors combine her mastery of the history with her understanding of the people; her eye for irony and her ear for poetry make this a rich and rewarding saga.
Grand Central, $26.99
The Walking People
It’s always exciting to read a debut novel when it displays as much promise as "The Walking People." A tale of two families, author Mary Beth Keane’s new novel moves deftly between Ireland and the U.S. in this tale of family secrets and the steep price they exact.
When timid Greta Cahill leaves Ireland for a new life in America she succeeds beyond her wildest dreams. She falls in love, raises a family, and earns a living – but at a great cost: a long interred secret means she must always keep her American life separate from her Irish past, even among the people she is closest to.
Keane has written a novel in the old manner, full of plot points and reversals and revelations, and she’s done so with so much skill that there can be no doubt that her voice will only strengthen and dazzle with each new book.
The Cardinal Sins
When "The Cardinal Sins" was originally published 30 years ago it was an overnight success story, selling over three million copies and spending 52 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. It’s not difficult to see why, this lusty epic – re-released this month in paperback - lifted the veil (so to speak) on the sex lives of two dashing Catholic priests and the women who love them. No wonder it flew off the shelves.
Kevin and Patrick, both bosom buddies, enter the seminary together but their divergent paths and characters eventually lead them toward wildly differing fates. Kevin, the unwavering one given to high-handed pronouncements on doctrines of the faith, is surprised to find himself in conflict with almost everyone he knows. In contrast the laid back Patrick rises like a helium filled balloon through the church hierarchy, giving in to every athletically wicked temptation along the way. But when all his fast living catches up with him he turns – wouldn’t you know it - to dry old Kevin for help. Greeley’s theme of how ambition and temptation can come into conflict with the spirit is certainly perennial, but be warned, not every reader will be rooting for a clean getaway.
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