New in Paperback : Best of Northern Irish Books Spring Summer 2022
Snowflake : Louise O'Neill
A startling, honest, laugh and cry novel about growing up and leaving home, only to find that you've taken it with you, Snowflake is a novel for a generation, and for everyone who's taken those first, terrifying steps towards adulthood.
The Troubles with Us : Alix O'Neill
A hilarious memoir about growing up in Northern Ireland in the 90s towards the end of the Troubles and a brilliantly propelling narrative of the extraordinary background story of her mother. Her mother's vivid personality and witty colloquialisms dominate the book and help to give a social history of life in Belfast from the 1950s onwards.
Out in Paperback from June 2022
All available via www.bookspaperscissors.co.uk
This was another interesting dynamic, where two thirds of readers were strongly in favour, the other third not so much. For those of you wondering about the title, I am attaching Derek Walcott’s poem of the same name, which does add, I think, some explanatory context. Love, in all its forms, is explored in this novel, but ultimately, one has to learn to love oneself, as a form of protection.
Ingrid Persaud spent her childhood in Trinidad ( until 18) and wrote this book in her forties. Some say this leads to a slightly nostalgic, dated view of the island, but does this impact the story? It still supplied a charming, inviting backdrop of food, voices, beaches and music.
Opinions were divided on whether the ‘light touch’ of dealing with some heavyweight issues was a good thing or not. Some said it was a sympathetic and nuanced treatment, others felt it was too superficial for what was actually happening. On the negative side, some found it a hard read, with just too much tragedy, domestic abuse, latent homophobia and above all, frustration that the relationship problems don’t resolve or engage enough.
If we ‘allow’ the light touch approach, we can also allow that Persaud was fully aware of the vulnerabilities and sensitivities of each situation, she just chose not to dissect them. Solo’s childhood clearly was far from perfect with his father and this led to his self-harm and his anger directed at others. Mr Chetan is a delicately drawn character, with a lot of conflicting emotions but with a steadfast loyalty to his friends, his first boyfriend Mani, and to Solo and Betty. Each character is beautifully imagined, as we see them from their own perspective and from others, a clever and rounded structure of narrative. The language is warm, colloquial and with humour. There is a physicality to the descriptions, which was well received by everyone - it provides a candid and personal response which really brings the characters to life - Betty and her dancing, Mr Chetan and his searching for love, Solo and his lonely thoughts in New York.
The second half, with Solo in New York, was a darker book, although the sudden and shocking death of Chetan spurred a reconciliation of sorts, a healing through the funeral. Persaud is quoted as wanting to explore “what constitutes a good death in a family” with all the ritual and shared experience that it brings - something that resonates well in Ireland. Overall, an intelligent book that manages to be a ‘light read’ ( i.e widely popular) whilst leaving us with great characters and many an issue to mull over once we put the book down.
"Love After Love" is a poem by Nobel Prize-winning Caribbean author Derek Walcott, originally published in his collection Sea Grapes (1976). The short poem, one of Walcott's most popular, urges people who have been disappointed in love to get back in touch with their authentic selves.
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
And say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.