This Little Bag of Dreams

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,/How can we know the dancer from the dance?

Category: Ireland

Himself by Jess Kidd

It is a tremendous privilege to review the wonderful Himself on publication day.  And what better time to discover this fantastic debut, immersed as it is in the dead and a forest borrowed from the Brothers Grimm, than a dark autumn evening?

The story begins in that same forest in 1950 and then fast forwards to 1976, just like two other wonderful recent novels, Maggie O’Farrell’s Instructions For a Heatwave and Joanna Cannon’s The Trouble With Goats and Sheep.  Furthermore, like those two novels, there is a mystery to be solved. The mystery relates to the parenthood of one Mahony, who arrives dirty and hippyish from the streets of Dublin with only a note and a photo as proof of his origins.  The villagers are adamant that Orla Sweeney departed Mulderrig twenty six years ago in the direction of Ennismore, and they will hear no more about one who, with her brazen ways, was so unpopular.  But Mahony and the eccentric old Mrs Cauley believe differently.  What happened to Orla? Did she leave Mulderrig alive? And if not, who killed her?

Himself is a truly stunning debut. Kidd’s writing is humorous and delightful; it’s original whilst still maintaining that beautiful Irish intonation.  If you like Angela Carter and Roddy Doyle, you will love this. 

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Instructions For a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell

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Instructions For a Heatwave was the Waterstones Book of the Month for March and is the first Maggie O’Farrell novel which I have read. I am certain it won’t be the last.

It is 1976 and the hottest summer since records began: ‘it inhabits the house like a guest who has outstayed his welcome’. Gretta Riordan, Irish-born, London-living, is baking soda bread, and Robert Riordan, her restless husband, is going to get a newspaper. He doesn’t return.

The greatest achievement of Instructions For a Heatwave is not its plot, despite the skill therein, but rather its deft portrayal of a family breakdown (or several family breakdowns, perhaps). For there are huge secrets within the Riordan clan: Michael Francis’s infidelity, the effect of Aoife in utero on Gretta, and Aoife’s dyslexia.

What I enjoyed the most about the novel, however, was O’Farrell’s portrayals of Ireland, Irishness and attitudes to the Irish. Take Michael Francis’s future father in law’s questions:

‘From Northern Ireland? Or southern Ireland?’

‘Ah. But you’re not IRA, are you?’

I have taken a long time to read this book. But then, it is no page turner, like Gone Girl. Rather, it is a deliciously long yet rewarding walk, with a glittering view over the sea to savour at the end. It will stay with me a long time.