Review of Books
By Irish America Staff
January / February 2019
Recently-published books of Irish and Irish-American interest.
By: Graham Norton
As a friend commented recently, is there anything Graham Norton can’t do? He’s already got the perfect chat show, the reasonably decent wine varieties, and even added best-selling novelist to his array of talents two years ago with Holding. And now, the so-called difficult second novel has landed and it’s every bit as readable as the first was. A man of many talents, indeed. There are one or two moments in A Keeper that don’t quite stand up to close scrutiny, and at times you may have to work a little on your suspension of disbelief as a reader, but on the whole it’s quite engaging and enjoyable.
Elizabeth Keane has returned to Ireland from New York after the death of her mother, and Norton really captures the sense of disconnect she feels so keenly. An only child, she suffers the attentions of her aunt and uncle, and her cousin’s excruciatingly nosy wife. Her own son has not travelled with her, having decided to spend time with his father on the West Coast instead.
After a few half-hearted attempts at putting some order on her mother’s house, Elizabeth finds a stash of old letters. To her surprise, she realizes they are from the father she never knew, and about whom her mother never spoke. Piecing together their relationship, she then learns of a surprise bequest in her mother’s will.
Norton flashes between “then” and “now” in order to flesh out the gaps between the lines in the letters from this unknown father of Elizabeth’s. And what gaps there turn out to be, as it all goes a little Gothic horror in parts.
There is a strange interlude section featuring Elizabeth’s son, which may have better belonged in another book entirely, but that aside, there are some wry observations on small-town life from Norton, and the family interactions are very warmly described. ($26 / 326 pages / Hodder & Stoughton) – Darina Molloy
Future Popes of Ireland
By: Darragh Martin
Ireland, 1979. While the country rhapsodizes over Pope John Paul II in the Phoenix Park, Bridget Doyle has her heart set on her family issuing forth the first-ever Irish pope. When her daughter-in-law is delivered of triplets nine months later, including the obligatory John Paul, she reckons it’s a good start. But Catherine Doyle’s death in childbirth means that Granny Doyle will be left to bring up the triplets and their older sister Peg.
Thirty years on, it’s a safe enough bet that none of the Doyle children will be the reason for white smoke issuing from the Sistine Chapel. Definitely not the two girls, at any rate, but even the boys seem as far from papal material as is humanly possible. Damien is trying to work up the courage to tell his Granny he’s gay; and the indisputably charming John Paul is a legend in his own lunchtime, but also one of the biggest chancers going. In his defense, he is the apple of his Granny’s eye, which causes ructions with his siblings. The third triplet, Rosie, wants to save the planet, but hasn’t otherwise figured out what to do with her life.
None of them have much contact with their older sister Peg, who lives in New York City. They’re used to not talking about her, ever since she ran away from home in her teenage years. With life bursting from every page, and a social commentary on Ireland (both modern-day and 1980s) woven through the narrative, this is a buoyant, joyous, irrepressible book – a bit like the character of John Paul himself.
There’s plenty of food for thought throughout – from keen observations on the gas pipeline in North Mayo, to homophobic bullying in schools, to the financial crash that had life-changing effects for so many Irish people. On the whole, it’s very a much a book of its time, and a very enjoyable read. ($21 / 448 pages / Harper Collins) – Darina Molloy
The Writing Irish of New York
Edited by Colin Broderick
The Irish have been writing about New York for nearly as long as they’ve been in New York, from the plays, poems and fiction of Charles James Cannon (born in New York to Irish immigrants in 1800), to immigrant sagas such as Annie Reilly by John McElgun.
Add this new collection, edited with style and wit by Colin Broderick, to the long list of impressive New York Irish literary efforts. With work by superstars such as Colum McCann, Billy Collins, Dan Barry and Malachy McCourt, and hidden gems by Kathleen Donohoe, as well as Irish America contributors Mike Farragher and Mary Pat Kelly, The Writing Irish of New York has no trouble earning its spot on the bookshelves of any respectable Irish reader, from New York, or otherwise.
“When I first arrived in America, I was living in the Bronx,” writes Broderick, the author of two memoirs, That’s That and Orangutan, as well as the screenplay for the film Emerald City.“I was an angry, drunk young carpenter, and I hated the term ‘Irish American.’ How dare anyone who did not have an Irish accent say they were Irish! It’s ridiculous, right?”
Indeed, this eclectic collection – not to mention Broderick’s own brief, insightful biographical sketches of (among others) Maeve Brennan, Eugene O’Hara, Frank O’Hara and John F. Kennedy Jr. – stands as a testament not only to Broderick’s passion for reading and writing, but his own education on the depth and breadth of Irish American storytelling.
As Broderick puts it: “It took me a long time to shed my ignorance, to embrace the Irish diaspora, not just here in America but in Australia and England and everywhere else we drifted after hunger sent us fluttering like sycamore seeds in the fall.”
The Writing Irish of New York is the latest proof that those seeds produced beautiful things. ($19.95 / 271 pages / Lavender Ink) – Tom Deignan ♦