A year for reading

Hello to all the Advertiser readers.

Well, I’ve been talking about doing this column on books for some time. Bearing in mind that we have started the real holiday season, I felt it would be a good week to do it. Last week in the column, I spoke about the books I can remember from my childhood.

Reviewing this year of 2021, which was so coloured by the pandemic and the severe lockdown, the book that springs instantly to my mind is the book that Barack Obama wrote called A Promised Land. Feargal gave it to me for Christmas, and I looked at the 700 pages and wondered would I ever get through it. Well I did, and I wished it had gone on for so much longer. He is a very elegant writer with a great descriptive eye, and I felt on reading it that I knew a lot of what went on in the White House during his time in office. Now that libraries are open again, I would encourage you to put your name down for this book, or to borrow it, or in the end to buy it, because you will have a truly great read. For me, it occupied me during those deadly days of the heavy lockdown, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Another book which came out around the same time, or a little bit later, was the book by Shane Ross, the previous minister in the Government of 2016-2020, which was called In Bed with the Blueshirts. Now if you want a good political book that is racy, tells tales out of school, and is full of humour, this is the book for you. It’s really well written. Shane has a caustic eye and a wry manner of expression which so suits the secrets which come tumbling out from him. Read it and you will be enthralled – again, the library, the bookshop, or friends who might lend it to you. Anyway, it’s a great read.

In tandem with that book came out the Ciara Meehan and Stephen Collins political book called Saving the State. Again, this was a very good read. I took issue with it when I reviewed it for the Sunday Independent because I thought they just concentrated on one party and never went over the decades of achievement in the record of other political parties which were in government during momentous times. Nevertheless, it is a good political historical read.

Then we move on to the novel Listening Still by Anne Griffin, who is a Mullingar woman and has written quite an enthralling tale. It’s about a woman, Jeanie Masterson, who, with her father, runs a funeral business and parlour in a midland town. She and her father share a gift in that when the deceased person is brought into the funeral parlour, if they listen they can hear the final thoughts of the person who has died whispered to them. Now I know that sounds fantastical, but it isn’t really; it’s a truly lovely read and it’s one of those books that when you take it up you actually can’t put it down, you want to hear all that is happening. There is a great twist at the end of the book which really enthralls the reader, and having read it you feel very satisfied that it is thorough and well-rounded.

Now you’ll really like this one: The Shadowy Third by Julia Parry. This is an engrossing story about a young Oxford lecturer who carries on a romance, through writing letters but also in person, with Elizabeth Bowen, the famous Anglo-Irish writer, in the thirties and forties. He has a wife and young children, and the wife is the ‘shadowy third’ who in the end turns out to be a wonderful woman who, after his sudden death, researches his work to date on Gerard Manley Hopkins and on the correspondence of Charles Dickens. Once you start this book and get into it, you will love it, so I would encourage you to look around to see if you can locate it in the library or wherever you can.

The next one I have read and would recommend is called Mother Mother by Annie MacManus. It’s a great story, all about life in Belfast, about a young girl whose mother has died. She lives with her father and her brother Sean and she bears the brunt of loneliness on her shoulders. After a perfunctory meeting with a young man at a dance, she is pregnant and is left at 18 with her young son TJ.

Then there is The Partition by Charles Townshend, a very heavy book but full of facts and observations. I kept it on hand and kept dipping into it and in the end finished it, but it is heavy going, albeit laden with true historical facts.

From Whence I Came is a series of essays by visitors to the Kennedy School in County Wexford. It’s a good read because it is so different and again so interesting. The pull between the Kennedys and Ireland is everlasting, isn’t it? The authors are Dr Brian Murphy and Donnacha Ó Beacháin.

Last but not least, The Enigma of Arthur Griffith by Dr Colum Kenny. It’s a good read, but I still don’t know what is the real enigma of Arthur Griffith, who is called “the father of us all”. But it is most certainly a book worth reading.

And finally, to the book I’m reading at the moment: Holding Her Breath by Eimear Ryan. So far I am enjoying this good story, but I will have to finish it before I can give a full appraisal. But so far, so good.

So readers, enjoy all of the above, or pick one and decide on it, but above all, read, read, read! It’s the greatest gift in life to be able to do so, and in so doing to enjoy the life and times and places of so many diverse people.

That’s my lot for this week. Hope to talk with you all next week.

Slán go fóill – good reading ahead.

Mary O’Rourke.


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