Beyond the Horizon by Eoin Lane | A Review

I first posted this review in February but as the paperback edition of the book is being launched this week, I thought I would post it again. Eoin Lane is a writer, but also an artist. He travels round Ireland’s coast painting land and seascapes.

This book is the story of an artist’s life, mind, body, and spirit: I found it fascinating, hypnotic, rhythmic, exquisite.

“The rain was in her eyes and she couldn’t see through the rain. She couldn’t see through the fog and the rain in her eyes.”

“A storm of sea voices. Coming through the crack in the wall. On the wind. Voices in the deep. Underwater. Deep. Down. Deep. Strands and fronds of seaweed strangling.”

The artist is Colin Larkin, whose father drowns when he is six years old. Colin nearly drowns too, and this episode is the well-spring of his life. For a long while he is withdrawn and doesn’t speak but eventually, he returns to school, and he begins to draw. For the rest of his life the sea fills his being and his canvases. He has a particular affinity for the works of Paul Henry and longs for islands, for solitude, for the sea and sky.

I enjoyed his early family life with his sister and his two brothers, and his wonderful mother. It wouldn’t be enough to say she was wise and loving – she embodied wisdom and love. For fear of spoilers, I will say no more about the story which explores different types of love and devotion. But I will say that Aisling is the loving heart of his life from the very day meets her:

“Her words swinging in like the first peals of a bell that would ring all around him for years . . . “

When Colin finds an island he loves, and begins to work, we get a wonderful insight into the mind of a painter. We are there with him looking at the immense sky and sea. We experience his complete absorption in putting down what he sees. The prose and the sensitivities of Colin make me feel like I’m half alive and missing out, and I am resolved to look at everything I see, to listen to what I hear, to absorb the reality around me.

There are some snatches of poetry (Yeats) here and there which make me both sad and glad to think of all the beauty in this world, all the words and pictures and music, and the earth itself, particularly Ireland.

Colin describes some of his paintings as ethereal; for me, the whole book is ethereal. To say I give it five stars seems irrelevant, and a bit daft.

Two Short Reviews: Weathering Old Souls by JamesJayCudney and Didi Oviatt | Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica

A book about reincarnation – a subject I have never read about before. Right from the very beginning I was hooked. Twice, I missed my bus stop! Abigail, the main character is so entirely interesting, it’s very hard to stop reading. Her journey through life, adjusting to her own mind, and the adjustments her family has to make, make for absorbing reading. Definitely a unique book. I wondered how it was going to end, and was a little worried, as so often, (for me) the ending ruins a good book. But not this time! The ending was just right, all the threads drawn together perfectly. Nothing rushed, nothing forced, nothing contrived, all as it should be, has to be; I can’t imagine a different ending.

The characters were all believable; the prose was terrific; the shape and pace of the book exact. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. For an absorbing, unique story, it’s easily 5 stars.

This is one of those books which is great at the beginning. I don’t to give spoilers so I’ll try to be vague. We are introduced to Delilah (a young girl) first, and I was totally involved with her story. She was brave and strong and resourceful. I expected the book to follow her and solve the mystery. However, the book has two time lines, now, and eleven years ago. And after a while I began to find eleven years ago tedious although for the purpose of the book they were necessary. There is a massive shock which was well done, but after that, things started to slip. The other characters were believable and well done, and interestingly various.

However, towards the end, there were several new threads which felt to me to be contrived and unlikely. I can’t say any more without giving the plot away – but there are several points I would like to make. I found the ending rushed, contrived, frankly unbelievable. I was aware of the writer writing. I feel that there was a really good story to be told here but it didn’t materialize. Over all it was a readable and interesting book so I will give it three stars.

Has anyone else read these books? What did you think?

Some wonderful prose from The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

I can’t resist sharing my delight in the prose of Tom Wolfe. The description of this party goes on for several pages and is so totally and completely entertaining I can’t put the book down. Oh, the X-rays and the Lemon Tarts! I’d be annoyed on behalf of these women only I’m quite sure it’s all true. I hope you enjoy these few excerpts.

“All the men and women in this hall were arranged in clusters, conversational bouquets, so to speak. There were no solitary figures, no strays . . . There were no men under thirty-five and precious few under forty. The women came in two varieties. First there were women in their late thirties and in their forties and older (women ‘of a certain age’), all of them skin and bones (starved to near perfection). To compensate for the concupiscence missing from their juiceless ribs and atrophied backsides, they turned to the dress designers. This season no puffs, flounces, pleats, ruffles, bibs, bows, battings, scallops, laces, darts, or shirs on the bias were too extreme. They were social X-rays, to use the phrase that had bubbled up into Sherman’s own brain. Second there were the so-called Lemon Tarts. These were women in their twenties or early thirties, mostly blondes (the Lemon in the Tarts), who were the second, third, or fourth wives or live-in girlfriends of men over forty or fifty or sixty (or seventy), the sort of women men refer to, quite without thinking, as girls. This season the Tart was able to flaunt the natural advantages of youth by showing her legs from well above the knee and emphasizing her round bottom (something no X-ray had).”

“A blazing bony little woman popped out from amid all the clusters in the entry gallery and came towards them. She was an X-ray with a teased blond pageboy and many tiny grinning teeth. Her emaciated body was inserted into a black-and-red dress with ferocious puffed shoulders, a very narrow waist, and a long skirt. Her face was wide and round – but without an ounce of flesh on it . . . Her clavicle stuck out so far Sherman had the feeling he could reach out and up the two big bones. He could see lamplight through her ribcage.”

“There she was, standing over near the fireplace, laughing so hard – her new party laugh – laughing so hard her hair was bouncing. She was making a new sound, hock hock hock hock hock hock hock. She was listening to a barrel-chested old man with receding gray hair and no neck. The third member of the bouquet, a woman, elegant, slim, and fortyish, was not nearly so amused. She stood like a marble angel. Sherman made his way through the hive, past the knees of some people sitting down on a huge round Oriental hassock, toward the fireplace. He had to push his way through a flotilla of puffed gowns and boiling faces . . . “

What do you think? Have you read this book? Did you enjoy it?

An Excerpt from DANCER by Colum McCann – a gripping story based on the life of Rudolph Nureyev.

The date I have written in this book is February ’19, and I haven’t read it since. I loved it; the writing was terrific, and flesh was put on a distant star. I picked it up the other day, and I’m ready to re-read.

It was a hot summer in Ufa, the city enveloped in smoke from the factories and ash blown in from the forest fires, off the Belaya river. A thin film of soot lay on the benches in Lenin Park. I was finding it difficult to sit and breathe, so I finally plucked up the courage to spend the last of my money on the extravagance of the cinema.

Having not been there since Anna passed on, I though I might be able to revisit her, twine a lock of her grey hair around my finger.

The Motherland cinema was located down Lenin Street, gone slightly to ruin, the beginnings of cracks in the magnificent facade, posters yellowing in their glass cases. Inside, fans on the ceiling were at full force in the heat. I hobbled in on my cane and, having forgotten my eyeglasses, sat close to the front.

Word had gone around that Rudi was featured in the newsreel and there was a noise in the air, his name being whispered by what were presumably were old classmates, young men and ladies, some old schoolteachers. Yulia had written to say that in Petersburg young women had begun to wait outside the stage door to get a glimpse of him. She mentioned that he was even due to dance for Khrushchev. The thought was chilling and wonderful – the barefoot Ufa boy performing in Moscow. I chuckled, remembering the names Rudi had been called at school: Pigeon, Girlie, Frogface. All of that had been forgotten now that he was a solo Kirov artist – the arrogance that had been taken from the air and put in the victory soup.

After the anthem the newsreel came on. He was featured dancing the Spaniard in Laurencia. The sight of him was an acute but pleasing thorn. His hair was dyed black for the role and his make-up was garish. I found myself holding Anna’s hand and mid-way through she leaned across to me. Rudi was being savage and exotic, she said. He was bringing a flagrant ruthlessness to his idea of dance. She whispered urgently that he was altogether too flamboyant, that his feet weren’t pointed well, his line was slightly wrong, that he needed to cut his hair.

I thought: How wonderful – even as a ghost Anna didn’t hold back.

That wonderful narrative drive that keeps you turning pages; one of life’s best experiences.

Star of the Sea | An unforgettable book

Who would ever forget the names Scarlett O’Hara, Heathcliff, Tom Joad, Yossarian? For me, Pius Mulvey joins the list. I was reading through Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea, published in 2002. It’s on my TBR again list. When I first read the book, I carried it around with me. I was totally absorbed. I read it during meals, standing at bus stops. If I was watching television I read it during the ads. I literally could not put it down.

I’m copying this information from Amazon, a little about the author, and a little from a review and a few lines about the book.

The Writer: Joseph O’Connor was born in Dublin. His books include eight previous novels: Cowboys and Indians (Whitbread Prize shortlist), DesperadoesThe SalesmanInishowenStar of the Sea (American Library Association Award, Irish Post Award for Fiction, France’s Prix Millepages, Italy’s Premio Acerbi, Prix Madeleine Zepter for European novel of the year), Redemption Falls, Ghost Light (Dublin One City One Book Novel 2011) and The Thrill of it All. His fiction has been translated into forty languages.

The Story: In the bitter winter of 1847, from an Ireland torn by injustice and natural disaster, the Star of the Sea sets sail for New York. On board are hundreds of fleeing refugees. Among them are a maidservant with a devastating secret, bankrupt Lord Merridith and his family, an aspiring novelist and a maker of revolutionary ballads, all braving the Atlantic in search of a new home. Each is connected more deeply than they can possibly know.

From a Review: “I have also never wanted to read a book more than once. Until I first picked up The Star Of The Sea. I have read it four times now over the years and I know I will read it again and again. I love this book. Beautifully written. Exciting characters / plot. I get something new from it every time I read it. This book will last me my lifetime. Thank you Joseph O’Connor!”

Here is the opening paragraph where we meet Pius Mulvey:

“All night long he would walk the ship, from brow to stern, from dusk until quarterlight, that sticklike limping man from Connemara with the dropping shoulders and ash-coloured clothes.”

Joseph O’Connor is a prolific writer and has written many non-fiction books as well as novels. There is one called “Inside the Head of the Irish Male” which made me laugh out loud so often I was afraid to read it on the bus!

Aggravated Momentum by Didi Oviatt | A review

The first thing that impressed me about this book was the atmosphere. I found it chilling and creepy. The plot is engaging from the beginning; you are drawn in straight away, and the tension doesn’t drop half-way through as it does in a lot of thrillers. The intensity is carried throughout.

Markie, the main character, lives with her sister, Kam; they have a strange love/dislike relationship and they share feelings about their unfeeling mother – who’s a great character by the way. I enjoyed reading about her.

None of the characters is perfect; they all have their foibles and their secret thoughts; this is, of course, more realistic, and true to life for the reader. Generally, there’s the heroine and the hero, and you like them and want things to work out for them, but I didn’t feel like that about any of these people. However, I liked the huge FBI agent, Reese, very much indeed. I felt the sisters were safe when he was about.

There are many things about this book that I loved, like unusual little details about the killer. I also really liked the different POV chapters – I always love that in a book, and I could have done with larger chunks of it.

The dialogue is terrific; Here’s a little bit of it:

“Tiny beads of sweat grow in my hairline and on the tip of my nose. The walls of my office creep in closer, leaving me suffocated. I’m drowning in my own imagination.”

One of the most impressive things about the book is the shock element. There were moments when I actually gasped and put the book down to think about what had just happened!

I wonder if there will be another book about Markie and Kam; I would definitely read it with anticipation.

Loved, and lived in, books

I was looking along the bookshelves recently and noticed how many old books were battered looking, stuck with cellotape, torn edges, etc. So, I asked myself, would I like new copies? No, I would not. These books were all read many times; they have coffee and wine stains; pages had been turned down, passages were underlined; comments were written along margins. These are MY books, loved, and lived in. A lot of them are old Russian classics; I have at least six by Orwell. I have Rebecca and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Every book I have, has been read at least twice, and I wonder which will be the next ones to be held together with tape. Perhaps all of Patrick de Witt’s books, Redhead by the Side of the Road, by Ann Tyler, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

I’m always happy to find brand new books that I can really love. These days, I depend on my children to make suggestions. I stand in bookshops and haven’t a clue what’s good, and what is not. When I was young this was never a problem for me; I knew exactly what I wanted.

Ah well, old age, I suppose.

Upcoming books | Felix Finds Out, and Ghosts in Trouble.

When I first began to write, I wrote only for children, and published a book called The Silver Tea-Set which was published in 1990. Then there was FELIX FINDS OUT which I never did anything with. Since Christmas I have been working hard on both books and they are now ready for publication in paperback and on kindle. The Silver Tea-Set has been restructured, updated and renamed, and I’ll be uploading both books on Friday. In the meantime here is a sample from each. I should say they would suit children between 9 and 12, according to my beta reader – my grandson.

From FELIX FINDS OUT:

Felix was sitting on the floor in front of the fire, his short legs sticking out in front of him, and his homework balanced on his knees. One side of his face and one arm and leg were hot; the other side of him was frozen. He was trying to get through his maths homework so he could get back to Harry Potter (he was reading the very first book) but Uncle Eddie wouldn’t stop talking. He was upset again, worrying about his job at the pub on the corner.

         Felix was only half-listening to him. He was thinking about the Fancy Dress party; to be held in the evening of the last school day before the Christmas break. He didn’t want to go; the whole school would be there and all the teachers and all the parents. He wouldn’t be able to breathe.

         Eddie’s voice rose and Felix sighed and looked up at him.

         “The only thing I know for sure,” Eddie said, walking up and down and squeezing his hands together, “is that someone is stealing. It’s not me, and it’s not Mrs Boyd. We have our suspicions, you know, oh indeed we do. In fact, we’re quite sure it’s that Hennessy who works weekends but we can’t prove it. And now we’re on our last warning! The boss says he’ll get the police in and then he’ll sack the lot of us, guilty or not.”

From GHOSTS IN TROUBLE:

Lizzie smiled to herself, swaying about the room with a duster, thinking of coffee and cream buns, and then she saw Cormac, almost stumbling up the path. He leaned against the door, wheezing and panting for breath,  clutching his chest. Lizzie gave a little squeal.

“What is it? Cormac! What’s wrong?”

Cormac fanned his face. Grey wisps of hair rose and fell on his shiny head as he tried to steady his breathing. His big hands flopped and flapped helplessly and his nose, big and bright in his face, quivered.

“Cormac,” Lizzie cried again. “Speak to me! Is it the police? Oh, come in, come in. Don’t stand there gasping where anyone could see you.”

Cormac stumbled into the hall, nearly knocking down a stack of mirrors and Lizzie shut the door smartly behind him. She pushed him onto the nearest empty chair.

“Now,” she said. “If you don’t speak, I’ll murder you.”

And her eyes raked the room for something sharp to threaten him with. Cormac patted his chest, coughed and caught his voice at last.

“Oh, Lizzie,” he said. “Wait till I tell you what I saw this morning. The most beautiful thing – oh, we’ve got to have it. The most beautiful, lustrous, shining – “

And he smiled and closed his eyes.

“Yes?” said Lizzie, bending over him. “Go on, the most lustrous, shining what? What? Go on!”

Her fists were tightly clenched, and her arms swung stiffly forwards and back and she was ready to thump Cormac, or scream, or kick him, when he sat up straight and opened his dreamy eyes.

“A silver tea-set,” he said, his voice reverent. “And we’re going to have it, Lizzie. I can see it now, set out on our table and me pouring tea into those special, pink cups we’ve never used.”

And his eyelids drooped again as he painted pictures in his head, ignoring the way Lizzie was staring at him with her eyebrows as high up her face as they would go.

        

The books will be available in paperback and on kindle.

Thanks for reading this!

From Sea and Sardinia by D H Lawrence | an excerpt

Some days, in an idle moment, I stand at my bookcase and run my eyes over the shelves, and very often I take down this book and open it at random. I have posted excerpts from Sea and Sardinia before, but I find the whole book irresistible so I hope you will excuse another one!

The lovely dawn: lovely pure, wide morning in the mid-sea, so golden-aired and delighted, with the sea like sequins shaking, and the sky far, far, far above, unfathomably clear. How glad to be on a ship! What a golden hour for the heart of man! ah if one could sail for ever, on a small quiet, lonely ship, from land to land and isle to isle, and saunter through the spaces of this lovely world,, always through the spaces of this lovely world. Sweet it would be sometimes to come to the opaque earth, to block oneself against the stiff land, to annul the vibration of one’s flight against the inertia of terra firma! but life itself would be in the flight, the tremble of space. Ah the trembling of never-ended space, as one moves in flight! Space, and the frail vibration of space, the glad lonely wringing of the heart. Not to be clogged to the land any more. Not to be any more like a donkey with a log on its leg, fastened to weary earth that has no answer now. But to be off.

To find three masculine, world-lost souls, and world-lost saunter and saunter on along with them, across the dithering space, as long as life lasts! Why come to anchor? There is nothing to anchor for. Land has no answer to the soul any more. It has gone inert. Give me a little ship, kind gods, and three world-lost comrades. Hear me! And let me wander aimless across this vivid outer world, the world empty of man, where space flies happily.

The lovely, celandine-yellow morning of the open sea, paling towards a rare, sweet blue! The sun stood above the horizon, like the great burning stigma of the sacred flower of day.

Reluctantly I must put the book down now to finish this post. I hope some of you enjoy it as much as myself.

Northanger Abbey | A Short Review.

I thought I had read all of Jane Austen’s novels but realised recently that I had missed Northanger Abbey and promptly downloaded it to my kindle. I wish I hadn’t; I can’t think of one good thing to say about this book. Can it possibly have been written by the same hand that gave us Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility etc?

This book was completed in 1803, the first of Austin’s novels to be completed but it wasn’t published until after she died. You might think from this that I dislike classics; nothing could be more wrong. I love the classics, especially the ones I studied at school – contrary to the experience of many people.

So, I began to read with anticipation only to be terribly disappointed. The writing is extremely wordy, vague, intricate and boring.. It’s like reading in a fog:

Compliments on good looks now passed; and, after observing how time had slipped away since they were last together, how little they had thought of meeting in Bath, and what a pleasure it was to see an old friend, they proceeded to make enquiries and give intelligence as to their families, sisters, and cousins, talking both together, far more ready to give than to receive information, and each hearing very little of what the other said. Mrs. Thorpe, however, had one great advantage as a talker, over Mrs. Allen, in a family of children . . . “

A lot of words saying nothing at all, even allowing for the utterly different style of writing in the 19th century.

Northanger Abbey itself doesn’t appear in the book until 66% has been read already (according to kindle), and is a peculiar sort of Abbey. I could get no idea of its shape and size. At this point some gothic nonsense is inserted and lasts for a couple of chapters. Some parts of the house would appear to be out of bounds, and peculiar furniture appears in Catherine’s bedroom with secret doors and drawers which give her an uneasy feeling. However this is all soon forgotten – with no explanation for the strange furniture – and returns to the main love story which is so uninteresting that the reader could not care less whether there was a happy ending or not.

The heroine is young, an idealist, and, sometimes, innocent to the point of imbecility. The hero does nothing heroic; he is just there for Catherine to fall in love with. There are a couple of female characters who could have been developed into interesting people to read about but it never happened. They remained as puppets. As this was Austen’s first book, perhaps she was simply trying out various ideas and never meant for it to be published. It reads like a very long first draft, with a little of this and that. The only thing the book does is give us an idea of society, the mores, the morals, the intricacies of class distinction, the manners and the dress code. An essay would have done that job very well.

Has anyone else read this book recently? I would be very interested to hear someone else’s view.