Posts tagged ‘Irish Writers’

The good life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be- “Broken Harbor (Harbour)” by Tana French

“Broken Harbor” by Tana French, Published in 2012

Tana French is one of my favorite modern suspense novelists.  Her books (“In the Woods,” “The Likeness” and “Faithful Place”) leave you with that spine-tingling, hair-standing-on-end kind of feeling that is too often missing from suspense novels. And, apart from “The Likeness” which was fun but a bit far-fetched, her writing is excellent.  I really enjoyed “Broken Harbor.” I should state here that small children are killed in this book so it can be extremely hard to read in parts and for that reason this book is not for everyone.

Broken Harbor USDetective Mick Kennedy is assigned the high-profile murder of the Spain family. The two children were found smothered in their beds. The father, Pat, had died on the floor downstairs from multiple stab wounds. His wife, Jenny, was also stabbed and had curled up next to her husband to die.  The police arrive before she dies and she is taken to the hospital in the hopes that the medical staff can keep her alive.

Though the murders are disturbing and troubling what is perhaps even more confusing is the state of the Spain’s house.  It is located in Broken Harbor in what should have been a community of newly built homes.  But most of the homes surrounding the Spain’s house are in different stages of construction and there is clearly no intention to complete them.  Victim to the Irish economy crash of 2008, the construction company and land developers were never able to complete the project and so the Spains live in a partial ghost town of half built homes.  Inside the house itself, some of the walls have holes cut into them in what initially seems like a home repair project.  The Spains have also covered the attic opening with wire netting and rigged it with video monitors so they could apparently be prepared for someone or something coming into the house through the attic. All of this makes the question of what happened to the Spains even more compelling.

After investigating Mick finds out that Pat and Jenny were high school sweethearts. The golden couple. The couple that everyone wanted to be.  And everyone from the outside thought the Spains had everything. But when Pat loses his job a few months before the murders everything begins to crumble for them.  Unable to ask anyone for help – who would believe that the perfect couple needed help – Pat and Jenny find themselves alone and isolated in a crumbling house, in an almost empty neighborhood.

Throughout the investigation Mick is dealing with his own past.  Broken Harbor used to be a family vacation spot where he and his family would spend their summers.  One summer something happened that altered their lives forever leaving Mick broken and guilty and his sister falling even deeper into her mental illness. Between coping with his past and trying to stay focused on the investigation, things begin to unravel for Mick not unlike the Spains’ lives.   And of course while this is happening, in true suspense style, Jenny is recovering from her injuries and begins to remember what happened the night that she lost everything.

French tackles a lot in this book: family loss, mental illness, the economic crash, friendship, the strict black and white way we view life.  But she focuses a great deal on the moments that break us.  The moments that even those of us with the house, the 2.5 children, the great job, those of us who seem infallible experience.   Some of us don’t come through those moments and for those of us who do there is often a great cost. Under the glossy veneer we all struggle and what happens in that struggle is often what changes everything.

Other reviews to check out: 

December 27, 2012 at 9:24 pm 3 comments

You can’t win them all – “The Likeness” by Tana French

“The Likeness” by Tana French – Published in 2008 

I have read three books by Tana French.  I loved “In the Woods”  and really enjoyed “Faithful Place.” “The Likeness” was fun but it was kind of a disappointment compared to the other two books.  But that is in comparison – standing on its own “The Likeness” is still worth the read.

Cover of "The Likeness: A Novel"

Cover of The Likeness: A Novel

“The Likeness” picks up with Detective Cassie Maddox about 6 months after the end of “In the Woods.”A woman is found murdered in a small country town outside of Dublin.  The dead woman not only looks exactly like Cassie (yes, suspend your disbelief ladies and gentlemen) but she has been using an undercover name Cassie had created previously for another undercover case.  The murder squad realizes this is a perfect undercover opportunity for Cassie, to pretend that Lexie, the murder victim, didn’t die but was just injured. By living Lexie’s life, Cassie can try to find the murderer (again suspending disbelief, people).   Cassie moves into Lexie’s home that she shares with five other graduate students, Abby, Raf, Daniel and Justin.  They live in a country manor, a fix-her-upper, spending their days at Trinity College studying and teach – and they spend their nights making large dinners, reading literature, and playing the piano. They accept the injured and shaken Lexie, undercover Cassie, back into the fold seemingly fooled by the switch.

It is not a bad undercover job for Cassie who has always kept herself emotionally removed in her own life.  Cassie finds herself entranced by her four roommates and the life they lead.  She finds herself beginning to connect with Lexie’s life and even her hidden identity.  She falls in love with all of her roommates. Abby’s strong but sweet demeanor, Raf’s rich kid loneliness, Justin’s festivity and even Daniel’s quirky behaviour. This begins to compromise her investigation while at the same time brings her in touch with the losses she experienced in the investigation from “In the Woods.”  What she has been avoiding, she must finally face.

The mystery of Lexie’s death is somewhat interesting. But like Cassie, as the reader, I found myself much more interested in the life of all of the roommates than the mystery itself.  French may have done this on purpose, so you understand how Cassie could make the choices that she makes to compromise her investigation. Though ultimately I think it plays poorly when the mystery is finally solved because as the reader I am not sure you care anymore about who did it.

All in all, this book was a fun, quick read. It is not my favorite of French’s writing but even at her worst  Tana French gives most suspense novelists a run for their money.  So being the worst book of some of the best is not such a bad thing.

January 8, 2012 at 1:25 pm 3 comments

Frankly my dear, I do give a damn – “In the Woods” by Tana French

Cover of "In the Woods"

Cover of In the Woods

In the Woodsby Tana French, Published 2007

I loved this book.
Seriously,  stop what you are reading or pause your DVR or quit your job or after being incredibly responsible reward yourself and read this book.    In the arena of suspense novels it is one of the best I have read – no, I am not kidding.

It begins with a story about three children who, in 1984, disappear into the woods right outside of Dublin, Ireland. Only one child was ever found:

“…a policeman with a torch found Adam Ryan in a densely wooded area near the center of the wood, standing with his back and palms pressed against a large oak tree. His fingernails were digging into the trunk so deeply that they had not broken off in the bark.”

The reader then finds out that this kid, only all grown up and a murder detective, is the narrator.  Detective Ryan can remember nothing- not what happened to his friends, not how his socks were filled with blood, and not, perhaps most importantly, why he survived. And instead of memory, he is forever left with the guilt of surviving.

But he finds himself with a new murder mystery to solve, twenty years later, in the same woods.  A young girl, Katy Devlin, is found strangled in the field that is left where the woods have in part been removed.  Ryan is stuck trying to solve this new murder, determine whether there is a connection between the two incidents, while desperately trying to remember what happened twenty years ago.  It is an amazing balancing act, that crumbles very quickly. And that folks, is all I can share about this book. I feel that if I share more, it will be too much.  I will say that Ryan warns you from the beginning that he is not a reliable narrator:

“What I warn you to remember is that I am a detective. Our relationship with truth is fundamental but cracked, refracting confusingly like fragmented glass. It is the core of our careers, the endgame of every move we make, and we pursue it with strategies painstakingly constructed of lies and concealment and every variation on deception.”

The ending is not what you want but as a reader you quickly realize that French really gave you the only ending that works. And though it is not Scarlett and Rhett living happily ever after (which after 4 hours of film should have happened), it is indeed what you knew all along would happen or at least what you suspected would happen.  But you don’t feel cheated, you just feel resigned.  And that is some amazing writing.

November 9, 2011 at 7:16 pm 7 comments

“It could have been anyone, you know?” – The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright

“The Forgotten Waltz” by Ann Enright, Published 2011


book cover

There is no question that Anne Enright can write beautifully. There are a lot of reasons to read “The Forgotten Waltz”  – the story is compelling and written with Enright’s unquestionable skill but I do feel like the technique loses the story a bit.

Gina narrators this story that is entirely focused on her affair with Sean. Gina is in her early thirties and has a fumbling and kind husband, a beautiful sister and a tragically fading mother. Sean has a cold-removed wife, Aileen, and a daughter, Evie.  Of course for most of this story the other characters are just peripheral to the affair.   The story is told in pieces, that rewind, criss-cross and then move forward to jump back again.  What becomes clear is that Gina is not a trustworthy narrator making her in fact the perfect way to look at what an affair does.  An affair is by it’s very nature unfairly all-consuming. And so, Gina’s affair with Sean is so selfish that it almost seems like her husband, Conor, and anyone else her affair touches is merely a supporting actor.  There is also little responsibility here – as if the affair just happened to her.

  “This is the really way it happens isn’t it? I mean in the real world there is no one moment when a relationship changes, no clear cause and effect. Or the effect might be clear, the cause is harder to trace.” 

Gina’s unraveling life seems to have little lasting emotional effect on her, which struck me as odd or maybe it was there and I missed the under-current.  The guilt that is there seems short-lived and shallow at best. Even in her interactions with Sean’s daughter Evie, who has struggled with a health issue since she fell off a swing when she was four,  Gina seems more interested in how Evie affects Gina’s relationship with Sean. Rather than how the affair has severely and forever altered this little girl’s life.  Here, I do believe Enright does a beautiful job of making a point by beginning and ending the book with Gina in an uncomfortable and truthful interaction with Evie.  It is a lovely wink at the reader that seems to say “Evie will always be the reality check here.”

I will admit for me the fact that there is no linear storyline made this novel hard to follow at times. It is supposed to be written the way that Gina’s memory works and of course memory is not a start-to-finish kind of thing.  But at times, I got a little left behind making the reading a little more difficult then this story should require.  Regardless of my lazy reading, Enright has found a stunning way  to deal with this topic and her writing is amazing.

(P.S.  Enright’s The Gathering is also a very good book)

Other reviews:

October 30, 2011 at 3:44 pm 4 comments

An Irish story is rarely a happy story – “Country Girls” by Edna O’Brien

Three country girls

Image via Wikipedia

Country Girlsby Edna O’Brien, Published in 1960. 

I should start by saying I have a lot of posts this week because I am laid up, so I have been able to read a lot while recovering. I wish I always had this much time to read but without the laid up part.

On to the review: I would suggest this book. I think it is well written and the story is engaging.  But I am still trying to understand what O’Brien was doing with all of the characters.

Caithleen is fourteen, living in an Irish farmhouse with her brow-beaten mother and her drunken abusive father.  When her mother dies suddenly she is sent to live with the Brennans – including their daughter Baba, who becomes Caithleen’s friend but also Caithleen’s harshest critic and is terribly cruel in most instances.  Frankly, I did not like her. Together, Caithleen and Baba go to school at a convent, get expelled and then wind up in Dublin, in a low rent boarding house.

Throughout these adventures, Caithleen also finds herself in love with Mr. Gentleman, the middle-aged, married Frenchman who lives down the lane.  It becomes clear quickly that Mr. Gentleman is also very interested in Caithleen and he takes her on long car rides stealing kisses while acting sullen and romantically withdrawn (this part is was really bothersome for me because he is really just an elegantly dressed child molester).

Through-out the story, Caithleen grows from a naive girl into a fumbling young adult who can’t seem to avoid being taken advantage of by both Baba and Mr. Gentleman. She is continually overwhemled with memories of home and her mother – while trying to be more adult than she is ready to be.  It is heartbreaking.

This is the first novel in the trilogy written by O’Brien – I do plan on reading the other two novels and this may help me understand some of the character development in this book.  O’Brien has been compared to her contemporary Irish writer William Trevor but her style is all her own.  O’Brien is able to make the reader feel the discomfort and the awkwardness of being a teenage girl – that precarious period where there is a longing for childhood comfort but a need to act the part of the adult so peers won’t see weakness. It is a painful process to watch but it makes for a good story.

October 7, 2011 at 9:34 pm Leave a comment


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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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