The Mark and the Void bills itself as a madcap comedy about the financial crisis, and madcap indeed it is — so much so that I found it difficult to take it seriously at first. But the premise of the scheming novelist inserting himself into his would-be protagonist’s life is deeper than it seems at first, and the better bits are to be found in the secondary characters, well drawn, whether fellow bank employees or the novelist’s wife and young son.
Tag Archives: Ireland
Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution is a sobering and tough book that tells the author’s story as a prostitute, or, as she would prefer to say, a prostituted woman, and weaves it with a strong political statement of the dangers of legalizing prostitution. The personal story starts with a neglected child of mentally ill parents, who at age 16 (16!) acquires a pimp-boyfriend, and ends, relatively happily, with a departure from prostitution and drugs several years later. It is breathtaking.
The political diatribes I found less effective, in particular because some seem obvious (does anyone really think that prostitution can be good for women? And if there are such people, would they be reading this book?) But if you are up for a demanding book, this one’s worth reading.
The Green Road stars a difficult mother and her four children through a couple of decades, told through their individual stories and then a dramatic Christmas gathering. The individual stories sometimes read more like documentaries than a novel, especially those of the sons who leave their small Irish village for, respectively, the US and Mali. The self-centered matriarch is splendid, and the dutiful and occasionally resentful older daughter is also captured well, but it all felt, to me, a bit forced and disjointed.
Academy Street tells a banal story of an Irish woman who, having lost her mother early, immigrates to the US and undergoes many traumatic life events. I did not care much for the story but the writing, especially the first few chapters that describe her growing up with an angry, bereaved father in Ireland, is powerful, especially the very first chapter that describes her mother’s funeral from the perspective of a lonely seven-year old. It went downhill from that beautiful start, in my opinion.
The eponymous Nora Webster is a slightly overwhelmed widow who just lost her husband and is juggling four children and too little money in a small town where everyone knows her business and is not exactly embracing any sign of independence on her part. But she perseveres and in tiny ways at first finds her way to a more autonomous life. The quiet story reminded me very much of Someone, the story of a mostly anonymous woman in Brooklyn — but here the author takes us into Nora’s mind and her occasional rage at the establishment and the limitations everyone is putting on her. So her main victory is to repaint her living room, but it feels like a symbol for so much more,
The Secret Place bored me. It’s the story of a cold case investigation, the murder of a high school boy on the ground of a girls’ boarding school. The detectives, a gifted woman undermined by sexism on the squad and a man who is trying for a promotion, are wonderfully portrayed in their uneasy partnership. But the story they are investigating is seeped in inane girl rivalries, ineptly contained by a caricatural principal and teachers, and I could not wait for the 500 or so pages to end, along with their descriptions of vapid visits to the mall, silly flirtations, and lies everywhere, for no good reason.
History of the Rain features a dead twin, a dying teenager, a loser dad, and a strong Irish mum. A soppy sentimental drama? Not at all. Ruth Swain shines as she writes a classic family saga, but with many wonderful twists and told in a pitch-perfect contemporary voice. I was sorry when I got to the last page….