Award Winning Irish Authors
In conversation with a Reading Group member recently I was reminded of some of the great contemporary Irish authors and the books of theirs that I love. I challenge anyone to read ‘The Hearts Invisible Furies’ by John Boyne and not be moved both to tears and to laughter from the brilliant storytelling combined with the best reflection of Irish life I have read for a long time. It’s a story of a young girl who has been taken advantage off and is then cast out of the parish in disgrace. She gets on a bus to Dublin with nothing and the tale is then told of the life of the baby she births and gives up for adoption. The mix of the old and new, the narrow mindedness of the rural closed parishes contrasting with the more open society in Dublin. It all combines to a riveting story that I was sad to finish. It is one of the books that I have recommended to many and will continue to do so.
We also discussed Claire Keegan’s award winning ‘Small Things Like these’ which is a shorter novella but no less striking in its brevity, telling us more in what is not said than what is. Again rural Ireland is described in all its bleakness- ‘times were raw’ - and though it is set in 1985 it has the feel of much earlier with one of the Magdalen laundries nearby. Bill Furlough is the local coal merchant, himself born out of wedlock but fortunate to have been raised in the ‘big’ house where his mother worked. Instead of being cast out when the pregnancy was obvious the family kept her on and allowed her to keep the baby and raise it within their protection. Now Bill has a family of his own and his family is doing well but during a coal delivery to the convent one day, he is made aware of the shocking conditions of the unfortunate girls in the laundry.
There is a sparseness to the prose with just enough colloquial narrative to transport us to the rural Irish town and landscape which most of us can relate to: small town Ireland where everyone knows everyone else’s business. And yet despite the rumours everyone keeps their counsel not wanting to interfere with the nuns’ treatment of the unfortunate girls who are allegedly forced to work in the laundry. The power of the church is sacrosanct and not to be questioned or crossed – if you know what is good for you. Bill is haunted by what he has seen and despite his wife’s pleading seems determined to find out more.
‘Small Things like These’ has a similar feel to Claire Keegan’s earlier novella ‘Foster’ which is similarly set in rural Ireland where a young girl is sent away from her family to be looked after by an older, childless couple. The glimpses into their lives is a snapshot of the times, a story recently made into an award winning Irish language film An Cailin Ciuin (The Quiet Girl).
Both stories end at a point where the reader is left with wanting to know more – a device that is as tantalising as it is frustrating! It leaves us to imagine the variety of possibilities that the endings suggest. The characters become so alive to us that we want to know – we want there to be hope for their futures. Definitely a sign of good writing!
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