The hero of The Witch Elm is first robbed and attacked in his home, then finds himself living in his dying uncle’s house, only to find that there is a body in the garden. Awkward.
The story is nicely twisted, although a tad too long to my taste. What makes it stand out is the cast of characters, including a police officer who will not quit, and oodles of family members with shady secrets.
Tender is a story of an infatuation of a female college student for a gay apprentice photographer which, of course, ends badly. The story starts brilliantly, with the two developing an intimate friendship that fools even their families but, they think, they can control. I wish they can, as the rest of the story is all about the doomed romance and destroyed friendship, and careful analysis of minute feelings and confusions.
May work for introspective souls. Me, not so much.
Emma Donoghue wrote the stunning Room (and other novels I did not like so much) and with The Wonder, she returns with a claustrophobic story of a “starving girl” in 19th century Ireland, whose food-free existence brings her family fame. A nurse is brought in to investigate this miracle and she will eventually untangle the mystery and save the girl in violent fashion.
The author captures the circumscribed existence in the small Irish village, the all-powerful role of the church, and never tries to simplify characters to fit the story. Bravo!
A Few Of The Girls is a set of stories, some quite short indeed, many of them doomed love stories of women who married the wrong men, or whose secret love affairs are exposed by random people and events — or deviously plotting relatives. I much prefer the full-length stories but this collection is quite fine, at least if you have a taste for melancholy.
In The Little Red Chairs, a married woman falls in love with a mysterious healer who turns out to be a Bosnian war criminal who thought he could escape detection by fleeing to a small Irish village. The book is the story of the woman, who loses everything she ever had because of the affair but continues to be fascinated by the man, through his eventual trial in The Hague. A big part of the story describes her life as an impoverished immigrant in London, surrounded by a gaggle of more exotic foreigners, but her inability to detach herself is the fascinating part of the story.
In An Affair with My Mother: A Story of Adoption, Secrecy and Love, the author recalls her search for her biological mother, who was pressured to give her up for adoption in the Ireland of the 1970s, at a time and place where unwed motherhood was shameful, so much so that there mother’s father stopped speaking to her after she got pregnant.
She does find her mother, and her mother is delighted to meet her, but having had to hide her past for so long, she insists on clandestine meetings, which is very painful for her daughter. I found the story to be strongest and most interesting when it describes how adoptions were managed in Catholic Ireland at the time of the author’s birth, and how shame and secrecy were heaped both on the birth mothers and, more surprisingly, the adoptive parents. Indeed, the author was lucky that her parents told her early and matter-of-factly that she was adopted.
On the other hand, the story occasionally rambles and, although it’s understandable that the author is distressed by her mother’s refusal to acknowledge their relationship publicly, at least at first, it’s puzzling that she cannot see that opening up to her husband and children upend her carefully reconstructed life.