8

‘The Closet of Savage Mementos’ by Nuala Ní Chonchúir **** (Reading Ireland Month)

The last of my posts for Reading Ireland Month this year is going to be about The Closet of Savage Mementos, a truly wonderful novel by Nuala Ní Chonchúir. This is the second of the two novels I was lucky enough to win in one of Cathy‘s marvelous giveaways during the event last year, and I have to say that I enjoyed it thoroughly.

The Closet of Savage Mementos is a short novel of 190 pages, divided in two parts. One is set in 1991 and the other one is set 20 years later, in 2011. The story follows our main character, Lillis, who, after the death of a person very close to her, decides to leave Dublin and move to Scotland, in hopes of making a fresh start. Little did she know, however, that life is something you can most certainly not run away from. 21939118

It is very difficult to talk about this book, for many and various reasons. First of all, it is a book that tackles themes and issues that are delicate for some people, me included. Therefore, reading about death or broken families truly resonated with me, but precisely because the author presented those issues so vividly and Lillis’ emotions were given in such a raw manner, it almost felt like experiencing them along with her.

Also, when I began reading this book, it almost felt like nothing really happened. The writing was beautiful but slow, the plot not very eventful but still enjoyable. However, reaching the middle and end of the book, I came to realise that so many things had in fact occurred in the plot. And this is a great advantage Nuala Ní Chonchúir’s writing has – she presents her characters’ lives to the reader in such a calm and matter-of-fact way that at first I didn’t realise how many things had already happened. And I believe this is exactly how life is. So many things happen in our daily lives but we don’t always realise it until he sit down and think about them. This is exactly what happened to me with this book.

As Gerard Stembridge states in the cover of the book “Nuala Ní Chonchúir’s characters and their relationships have about them that most precious and elusive quality: the ring of truth”. In fact, some of the events in this books were inspired byt the author’s personal experiences.

Despite being short, this book manages to tackle so many themes at once, such as death and grief, family relationships, adoption, human relationships and the unpredictability of life. Nuala Ní Chonchúir’s writing is beautiful and lyrical and she manages to build characters that correspond perfectly to reality. Her characters do good things and they also do bad things but there are no inherently good or bad characters. Lillis was not predominantly good, and her mother or Struan were not predominantly bad. Everyone, as all human beings, have both qualities and there are reasons behind each action.

Overall, I’m very grateful to Cathy for giving me the opportunity to read this marvelous book. It made think, it made cry and it made me laugh. I had an absolutely wonderful time reading it and even though it dealt with some quite “heavy” themes, I daresay it was quite a relaxing read as it didn’t require much effort to get immersed in its world.

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4

‘The Great Hunger’ by Patrick Kavanagh *** (Reading Ireland Month)

Patrick Kavanagh is undoubtedly one of the most prominent figures in Irish literature, both as a novelist and as a poet. He was born in 1904 and died in 1967, having lived through wars and terrible times, which is something that has been instilled into his writing as well.

Having never read anything by Kavanagh before, I decided to commence my literary journey through his work with a poem of his, “The Great Hunger”. It was written in 1942 and it revolves around the life of a man named Maguire. As it is quite a lengthy poem, it consists of 14 parts and in terms of form it resembles more a prose-poem, since rhyming lines are scarce to non-existent.

Almost in its entirety, the poem describes the everyday life of an Irish man in those times, who, as a peasant/farmer, is  mostly preoccupied with agricultural activities. However, the poem has a very bleak and melancholic aura surrounding it, which is enhanced more and more as the poem progresses. Maguire lives with his mother, who seems to be a very bossy and authoritarian figure. Sometimes Maguire feels trapped in this kind of life that he leads, having to farm his land and do what his mother says, while news of his acquaintances’ success reach his ears.

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The futility of such a meaningless life is underlined constantly in the poem. As the years go by and Maguire grows older, he begins to realise that it may be too late now to actually make a change and create the life that he always dreamt of. Even when his mother is out of the picture, he doesn’t seem willing to progress and get rid of all those things that plague him and make him miserable. And that specific attribute of his character made me think whether it truly was his mother’s oppression which held him back and prevented him from moving forward and doing something useful and fulfilling in his life.

Kavanagh manages very skillfully to refute the idea of the “noble peasant” that had been created in Irish literature and ideology at that time, since his peasant character is far from noble and successful. Instead, he spends his life with activities that don’t offer him any kind of satisfaction and he is lost in his mourning of the things he never had the opportunity to have.

The depiction of the female characters in this poem is also noteworthy, I believe. The most prominent woman figure is certainly Maguire’s mother, who seems to be in control of everything around her. Another female figure is his sister, who is a spinster and also sad about her life. Therefore, even though Maguire is the main character of the poem, the rest of the characters also seem to be trapped in their situations and being unable to escape.

I also liked how the poem started and ended with images of soil and clay, since the Irish land itself could almost be considered a separate character of its own, as it is connected with both farming and all the agrarian activities the characters in this poem occupied themselves with, as well as with all the deaths that occured, serving as the final resting place for those tortured souls.

Ultimately, for me, the title of the poem referred to Maguire’s great hunger for life, for better opportunities and experiences. Sadly, this hunger, no matter how great it is, never seems to be saturated. I am certain that there are a lot more themes and nuances in this poem that I’ve missed, so I will probaby re-read it some time in the future. However, as it is really melancholic and leaves you with a sinking stomach by the end of it, I think I will have to be in the right mood for it. I did enjoy it, though, as a first contact with Kavanagh’s writing, and I’ll definitely seek out more of his work soon.

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13

‘The Ballad of Oisín in Tir na nÓg’ by Michéal Ó Coimín **** (Reading Ireland Month)

Myths, fairytales and legends from all over the world hold a dear place in my heart and fascinate and intrigue me to no end. They are always one of the first literary searches I conduct upon being brought in contact with a new culture, as they often contain so much precious information about the customs and mentality of the countries they originate from.

The Ballad of Oisín in Tir na nÓg is a book I stumbled upon whilst searching for some Irish mythology for the  Reading Ireland Month Cathy and Niall are hosting, and it made me delighted.

The character of Oisín and his adventurous travel to Tir na nÓg or The Land of the Young as it is often translated as, is an old Irish myth whose origin I couldn’t really trace, but in the edition I own it is written in verse form, in the tradition of most epic myths and legends, like The Odyssey, The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Song of the Nibelungs by Michéal Ó Coimín in 1750.

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Oisin and the beautiful lady travelling to Tir na nOg.

This epic poem basically consists of a dialogue between Oisín and St. Patrick, to whom our hero relates the circumstances surrounding his journey to The Land of the Young, how he got there and how he ended up returning back. As the legend has it, a very beautiful young lady appeared one day and asked to take Oisín with her to the Land of the Young, promising him youth, wealth, love and everything he could possibly ever desire. Oisín of course accepted this offer and he tells St. Patrick about all the adventures they had while trying to reach this much-promised land.

After his arrival Oisín enjoys his life there, but after a while he comes to miss Ireland, his home country, and asks of his beautiful wife to allow him to go back and see it once. His lady is afraid he will not return, so she tells him to go but make sure he doesn’t get off his horse, because the moment his feet touch the ground he will be unable to return to her Land of the Young.

I do not want to give out the ending (though I’m sure some of you know it already), but I think it’s pretty obvious in which direction Oisín’s story is going to move towards. I really enjoyed reading this legend/poem and picking out all the similarities and differences it has with other similar legends I’ve read or heard of.

In 2014, I spent a semester in Poland as an Erasmus student and I had the opportunity to take a splendid course about fairies in tradition and culture, in which our brilliant lecturer acquainted us with so many different manifestations of fairies and fairy-like creatures and their usual behaviour. From the myth of Sir Orfeo (with which Oisín’s story shares so many elements) to the Shakespeare’s plays and Tolkien’s elves, the fairy tradition can be found in so many places. Therefore, I cannot help but observe the affinity between the fairy queens of those legends and the beautiful young woman who suddenly appeared to claim Oisín as her husband and take him to her land, where all his wishes could come true.

The story of Oisín has inspired so many writers; even W. B. Yeats had written a poem called The Wanderings of Oisin, which I’m certain is a retelling of this myth, as both Oisín and St. Patrick are included and it is also written in the form of an epic poem.

I throroughly enjoyed reading this myth, in addition to enhancing my mythology/legend collection. The storyline may seem typical today (though I’m not entirely sure where it was first encountered) but the Irish elements and the Gaelic influences are more than evident.

Have you read or heard of this myth? What other similar myths do you enjoy? 🙂

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7

Monday Movie: ‘Brooklyn’ (2015) (Ireland Month)

Mondays are usually gloomy days, so I decided to brighten up mine by watching and writing about a movie I’ve been meaning to watch for a while now. That movie is none other than “Brooklyn”, based on the book of the same name by the Irish author Colm Tóibín.

The film follows a young girl, Eilis, who has been given the opportunity to move from Ireland to Brooklyn, America, in order to work and have a better life. She takes this offer with no hesitation, since as she says herself at some point in the movie, there’s nothing for her in Ireland. Her first days in Brooklyn are very hard, as she not only suffers from severe homesickness, but she’s also having a hard time adapting to her new way of life.

Her life is bound to change, though, when she meets an Italian guy and starts going out with him. He seems to be exactly what Eilis needed in order to get back to her feet, and her life becomes happier than ever. However, some news from her home town arrive to disrupt this happiness, and Eilis needs to make a very important choice. Where does her true home lie?

I completely adored the cinematography and everything about the era this film was set in. The shots of Ireland and later of Brooklyn in 1950s were really well made and the costumes and overall atmosphere transported me back to that period for the 2 hours this film lasted for. The music was also very nice and soothing, implementing those Irish elements when needed.

What confused me a little, though, and made me not fully enjoy the film, was Eilis as a character. She started out as the timid girl many of us can identify with and her character truly developed and grew throughout the movie. Her confidence after the first half was overflowing and she did become a woman able to stand for herself and go after what she wanted. No matter how confident she became, though, she was still unable to speak and say the things she had to in order for her to avoid some uncomfortable situations and I admit I felt frustrated with her choices and attitude in the last half of the film. I did feel that she made the right choice in the end, after all.

Some people have characterised “Brooklyn” as a “chick-flick set in the 50s”, and while I can see why, I believe it is much more than just a love story. It tackles themes such as home, growing up, family and, of course, love, but everything is put under a veil of nostalgia, in which the music plays a very important part. It’s not a superficial story and I felt that the final choice was more a personal choice of where one feels at home rather than a simple choice of love interests and partners.

I always enjoy seeing how Irish culture handles the theme of identity and home and this movie certainly had an input I hadn’t encountered before. It wasn’t an excellent movie, but it was definitely worth watching. However, I don’t think I will be reading the book any time soon.

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1

‘The House’ by Leland Bardwell **** (Reading Ireland Month)

During Reading Ireland Month last year, I turned out to be lucky enough to win in one of the giveaways organised by Cathy. The theme of the giveaway was Irish women writers and one of the books I won was The House by Leland Bardwell. Therefore, I decided to commence my posts for this year’s Reading Ireland Month with a review of this lovely book.

Leland Bardwell appears to be one of “the forgotten” Irish literature voices, as Cathy had also written about very eloquently in her relevant post. It is rather (sadly) expected, then, that I hadn’t even heard of her or any of her books prior to being introduced to her through Cathy. house-leland-bardwell-paperback-cover-art

The House is a really short novel of merely 150 pages, but it is one of those books that are so rich in their thematology and characters that you cannot easily forget it, no matter how fast you end up reading it. I initially planned on reading it in just a couple of days, but I found myself so immersed in its world that I wanted it to last longer, so I ended up finishing it in about a week.

The book revolves around the story of the Stewart family who lives in a house in Killiney, Count Dublin. The family consists of Cedric, the older brother, Richard, James (who seems to be the unwanted one by his parents), Maria and Jess, who suffers from a fatal illness. Theresa, the house maid also plays a very important role in the story, since she appears to be Cedric’s love interest as well. The story focuses more on Cedric and the narrative voice alternates between first person (either Cedric or Richard) and third person quite often, which I found rather confusing at certain parts of the story, as I was trying to figure out who the narrator was each time.

As the first person narrator says about the book:

But as I have said, this is not strictly speaking the story of Cedric, it is merely what flashes in and out of my memory, of the events that happened in this house, on whose paint-peeling stairs I sit now – what a house and a family does to everyone, how lives are shaped and generations shoved into each other like the bellows of a concertina.

The story takes place in a span of some years, though we are only given clues out of which we can calculate the era it is referred to, as the specific year is not at all mentioned. A little after the middle of the book, the characters speak of an upcoming war that looms over them and everyone seems to be terrified of: World War II. The events of the war are not mentioned nor do they affect the plot in an immediate way.

The novel tackles many different themes, such as family relationships, love, friendship, illness, death, issues of identity (as any Irish piece of art that refers to that period where Ireland was still trying to stand on its own two feet) and segregation, depression and even education. The author manages to infuse all these themes and issues in her story without making it too tiring or heavy for the reader. Furthermore, her writing style is wealthy and literary without being too pompous or wordy.

Bardwell is an amazing storyteller; in merely 150 pages she creates characters that seem so stunningly real and familiar, with problems and situations that reflect our own. She creates a storyline that follows one family and their affairs, but on a much deeper level the characters and the situations they have to deal with connect with any Irish family that lived in those times, any Irish family that lives now or even any family anywhere in the world.

I will finish this review with some of my favourite quotes from this wonderful book.

“In Oxford my mind was all throbbing with ideas, here it’s dead as lettuce soaked at the vinegar of guilt and the need for love.”

“But he must hear his father out, the man to whom he owes so much and to whom he can give nothing back.”

“Cedric feels just now as if there are no days. Just time. Time which is beyond his control. Previously time was infinite yet ordered, death something to be switched on or off. But now it looms a sudden force; a current which is dragging the whole family with it.”

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6

Reading Ireland Month 2016

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March is already here and that can only mean one thing: Reading Ireland Month (aka Begorrathon) commences once again! Hosted by Cathy at 746books and Niall at The Fluff is Raging, Reading Ireland Month is a celebration of Irish culture in all its possible forms. Both those amazing people, as well as everyone who is participating, will gift us with posts about books, films, music, recipes, interviews, giveaways and many more things pertaining to the Irish culture.

Last year I had an absolutely wonderful time participating in this event, so I plan to do so again this year. Since I haven’t decided all of the books and films I’m going to be reading/watching for Reading Ireland Month yet, I don’t want to make a definite list because I will most likely stray from it 😛

However, I certainly plan on posting about Oscar Wilde (I have 2 plays and some poems in mind), Leland Bardwell’s The House and Nuala Ní Chonchúir‘s The Closet of Savage Mementos which I won in one of last year’s giveaways the lovely Cathy hosted, some poetry by Patrick Kavanagh, Eoin Colfer’s last Artemis Fowl book and Ciaran Carson’s Shamrock Tea. I hope to be able to get to all of them, and, of course, I’m open to any unexpected titles that might occur.

Apart from books, I also plan on watching some Irish films and talk about them in a post every Sunday of March, following my last year’s tradition. I haven’t made a list of the films I will be watching just yet, but since last year I watched and wrote about The Secret of Kells, I really want to try Song of the Sea this year. Brooklyn is also a film I’ve been meaning to watch, so I think this will be an excellent opportunity for me to do so.

I’m really looking forward to all the posts by those who will participate, as I’m sure I will find some great treasures to read, watch or listen to through them.

Is any of you participating as well? 🙂