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A Book Club Take on The Boy In The Gap

15/04/2011 Comments off

They’re a fussy lot in our Book Club but each and everyone gave the thumbs up to Paul Soye’s The Boy In The Gap. Can it really be that this is his first novel, so fine is the writing achievement?

We were into the suspense from the very first line, I remember the first night ‘on remand’ watching the news, and the tension is held right to the end through the device of having Jack  Sammon – the main character – jot down his thoughts in prison in an exercise book; more precisely, in The Ireland Series No. 03. Coipleabhar – 120 pages. Paul Soye’s writing is exquisitely precise.

Jack’s father dies when he is six and his mother takes on a partner, to whom Jack and his brother assign the nick name Latchico. For our non-Irish book club member we spent a few giddy minutes coming up with expressions to explain our understanding of the term Latchico: ass-hole, wastrel, good-for-nothing, gob-shite….

The story is set in te west of Ireland, in the area of County Mayo around Clew Bay ‘like a grey-blue desert from Achill and Clare Island to Newport and Westport, out along by the Reek…’ The landscape is finely evoked as is the animal life. The young boys get their early sex education as they watch a ram circle with twisted nostrils and mount his first ewe.

The book reaches into deep psychological recesses and the trauma that can erupt when an individual’s balance is disturbed: ‘The world shakes. The world and the delicate things around you are no longer stable.’

There is a consensus among the Kyleglass Book Worms: already we are looking forward eagerly to Paul Soye’s next novel.

A Take on All Time 100 Novels

04/04/2011 Comments off

The List | 101 Books.

I like the approach to reading in this blog. Robert Bruce takes Time Magazine’s Greatest 100 Novels (since 1923) and adds in Ulysses. He is working his way through the list and compiling his own rankings as he reads.

When he finsihes reading a book, he asks the simple question: Did I enjoy it? Then he writes up his personal review and ranks the book against others he has read. Top book so far is To Kill A Mocking Bird. The rankings change as he works through the list.

See how he’s getting on here.

Anne Robinson, My Life in Books – Disappointing

22/02/2011 38 comments

Anne Robinson hosts My Life in Books. Ten episodes on BBC Two in the run-up to World Book Day.

There is an episode each weekday evening this week at 6.30. I got myself organised for the first of these last evening, with author PD James and (55 years her junior)  radio presenter Richard Bacon. This programme was a disappointment.

The visual backdrop of blown-up texts seemed to me fussy and distracting. Anne Robinson wore her stern, detached, journalistic air – despite advance notice that she would adopt a different persona – when this viewer was looking for some spark of enthusiasm for the books discussed.

The programme seemed unsure and jittery in its format. At first I thought it was intended to be an intimate chat about favourite books between Robinson and her two guests. Then we realized there was an audience from whom we heard an occasional muted laugh and got one shot of the back of their heads. And the use of the occasional video and audio clip was clumsy.

There was little obvious rapport between the two guests and their host. For me, the programme only came to life when PD James spoke of her number one book Pride & Prejudice. ‘Jane Austen’, she said, ‘was the strongest influence on my writing.’

I did come away with two reads that I will follow up: Cyril Hare’s Tragedy at Law which, according to James, shows it’s possible to write well and produce a classic detective story; Richard Bacon persuaded me that David Nicholls’ One Day would be a good Book Club selection.

But I won’t be back in front of the telly this evening.

Dublin Doubles – A Book Club Take on Neil Jordan’s Mistaken

10/02/2011 Comments off

Neil Jordan’s new novel Mistaken is about two Dubliners, Kevin and Gerard, who spend their lives being mistaken for one another.  A mix of thriller and gothic genres, it is Neil Jordan’s first novel in six years. You can see Neil Jordan talk about his work on TV3 here.

All the Kyleglass Book Worms agree that the book gives a rich, immediate and evocative picture of Dublin in the sixties, seventies and eighties: Woolworth’s, Bewley’s, the Wellington Monument, Burgh Quay Irish Press offices and the real-life figure of David Marcus.

All agree that the Neil Jordan’s writing is crisp and direct with a strong visual eye – a skill inherited from his painter mother, he says. One sees the screen writer at work, every word selected with precision.

One of us has read an interview Neil Jordan gave to the The Telegraph where he talks about the two Niel Jordans: the writer and the film maker. ‘This mildly schizophrenic feeling triggered the idea for this novel.’

Some of us think that the book sags a bit in the middle; others that the narrator device of addressing Emily as ‘you’ is confusing in parts; that the Bram Stoker thread seems contrived; that the Manhattan gothic strand is over the top; that it is pretentious to be dragging Joyce into the story as if it is a modern-day Ulysses.

A ‘Small Talk’ interview Jordan gave to the Financial Times was intriguing. Asked what his current favourite word was, he replied, ‘Dinnsheanchas. An Irish word meaning “the lore of place.”‘ What comes across in Mistaken is Neil Jordan’s deep and abiding immersion in his Dublin places.

After all that, I can say that this ode to Dublin, Jordan’s place, with its stories, its lore and its literary ghosts, was not a bad January read. That’s the consensus from the Kyleglass Book Worms.

A Nostalgic Goodbye to Waterstones, Dawson Street

06/02/2011 3 comments

Goodbye, Waterstones, Dawson Street branch « The Anti-Room.

Antonia Hart’s piece on The Anti-Room Blog about Waterstones of Dawson Street, which closes its doors today for the last time, expresses the feelings of many. I will miss the browsing, followed by musing in the Reader’s Cafe and then more browsing. A perfect spot for literary rejuvenation is now no more.

In for a Penny, In for a Pound

Fifty jobs have just gone in Waterstones, between the Dawson Street and Jervis Street branches, and at the risk of sounding rather E.J. Thribbish, I’d like to mark the passing of the Dawson Street one in particular.

When I were a lass, it was a large Laura Ashley shop which occupied that Dawson Street premises, with a huge and beautiful central staircase and a railed gallery stuffed with bolts of green and white cotton prints and rolls of impossibly smart striped wallpaper (look, it was the early eighties). I’m fairly sure that before Laura Ashley it was the old Dublin furniture firm Anderson, Stanford and Ridgeway – at any rate, in the mid eighties Waterstones opened there, bringing a touch of glamour to Dublin’s bookshop selection, which up to that point had been dominated by Hodges Figgis, Fred Hanna and Easons, and supplemented by a solid lineup of secondhand and antiquarian shops, like Duffy’s, George Webb on the quays, and the dusty wooden stairs of Greene’s where endless Everyman editions of nineteenth century classics rubbed shoulders with geometry sets and rubber dinosaurs.

Waterstones brought a clean, modern shop layout that was unlike anything I knew in the city centre then, its restrained W branding a hymn to the serif typefaces in which its books were set.  And despite its being part of a chain (nul points for romance) and a British one at that (just nul points), Waterstones in Dawson Street always felt like a Dublin shop. The staff, an unfailingly civil bunch of low-voiced smilers, knew their books and made their customers feel that their query was an important one. Even today, I heard one of them giving his full and thoughtful attention  to an elderly lady about buying a book in French for her fifteen-year-old granddaughter, when with only three days of work left he could have been forgiven for drinking blood cocktails under the stairs.

I had fifty-odd euro saved up on my loyalty card, so I went in today to spend it and say goodbye to the shop, which is trading until Sunday, and when I’d paid for my books, the staff member who completed the transaction for me popped a red-foiled chocolate egg (of creamy, luxurious quality) into the paper bag along with the books.

“Just to say thanks for your loyalty,” she said, on behalf of the chain which had just made her redundant.

Someone had brought in scones from Kehoe’s – that cafe in Trinity Street which sells rock-bun sized scones injected with raspberries – and everyone was to get one when it was their turn for a break. The shelves were as well stocked as ever – apart from the cardboard Jo Nesbo stand – and the usual three-for-two selections were on offer, along with the current BOGOF on children’s picture books. It was easy enough to get my spend up to fifty euro.

Jervis Street was a difficult shop to be in, too many funny angles and a downstairs that was hardly there. But I’ll miss Dawson Street’s Irish history and biography section, their ordinary biography section, the children’s area, the substantial fiction selection, even that unappetising little loo in the most awkward corner of the shop. No, now I’m getting sentimental, I won’t miss that. I was reeled in, as intended, by the staff’s handwritten notes of recommendation, stayed loyal with my card, did a good chunk of my Christmas and birthday shopping there over the last twenty-four years. It was a meeting place, too, in the style of Clery’s clock, but with more to do while you wait. I’ve kissed and been kissed in that tiny lift.

I took it for granted, and from Sunday it won’t be there any more. I hope all the staff members find new jobs soon, and that someone interesting takes over the premises.

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