Jul 122012
 

This is a relatively short book that tells the story of an old man, a watch maker, who lies dying.  In the last hours of his life, he remembers back to his childhood; a difficult life in rural America.  His father would travel around selling bits and bobs from an old cart and suffered from epilepsy, in a time when the condition was not understood.  These memories merge with his father’s memories of his own father, a minister, who slowly lost his mind.

The language of this book is probably the best that I have read by a contemporary author.  It varies from being almost poetic and lyrical at times, to a stark modernity at other points.  A real masterpiece.

Jul 122012
 

In this award-winning piece of historical fiction, the reader is transported to Eighteenth Century Paris.  The protagonist is a young engineer called Jean-Baptiste from rural France who is given the job of clearing and emptying the huge cemetery of Les Innocents at the heart of Paris.  The volume of bodies is causing a stink for the surrounding houses and shops, but that does not mean that everyone is keen on their removal.

Jean-Baptiste recruits a group of miners to carry out the task, hardened, quiet men.  There are accidents, attempted murder, rape and romance, and much else along the way.  The subject is one that is unusual and interesting, and Andrew Miller manages to find a suitable balance of tone and personal intrigue so that it does not become depressing or heavy.

Jul 122012
 

This is the story of a fifteen- year old boy, called Charley, who is on an epic journey to try to save ‘Lean on Pete’ the horse.  While he is working at the race-track for a tyrannical horse trainer, Charley is dismayed to learn that Lean on Pete is going to be put down and decides that he is going to do everything he can to save him.   When his father is murdered and he is left with no family, home or money, he sets off on a journey to try to find his aunt in Oregon, and brings Lean on Pete with him.  He gets by stealing food, hitching lifts and picking up odd jobs.

Written in an informal, straightforward style in the first person, it is a story that captures the reader and carries you along, with a strong attachment for the central character.  If you are looking for something with a readable, gripping story, then this is a good choice.

Jul 122012
 

This is a debut collection of short stories by this Irish author, who was admired for her submissions to the Stinging Fly literary magazine, and then subsequently published this title through Stinging Fly Press. The stories center mainly around Irish rural themes and middle-aged people experiencing marriage and life crises.

Well-written, with a soft narrative style similar to Claire Keegan and William Trevor, there is, at times, a real beauty in the capture of characters. As the themes are quite similar, without the refreshment of more optimistic tones, perhaps it is a collection that can be enjoyed more by going back to the individual stories one at a time and appreciating them in a stand-alone environment. If you are looking for literary short stories along Irish themes, it is definitely going to deliver.