Our pick of the latest releases
Sandstone Press, £8.99
Life is pretty cushy for Artie Shaw. He may be living in Belfast in the 1980s, but none of that political stuff matters when youre working for a subsidised poetry magazine. For Artie, life is all about making cups of tea, having large (all-paid) lunches and pondering the advantages of Hobnobs over Jaffa Cakes – not to mention Mikado, something “between biscuit and sex toy”. When Artie meets the lovely Rosie McCann, it seems life couldn’t be better – well, except for the fact that the next edition of the magazine is dangerously overdue, a gun-toting lunatic recently barged into the office and the same deluge of rubbish poetry (such as Ode to my Cock and Period Pains) continues to pile up. And then there’s the issue of the magazine’s dodgy accounts. This debut novel from Kevin Smith, who was born in London and grew up in Northern Ireland, has nothing to do with truth and reconciliation. It’s a hilarious slap-in-the-face satire of Northern Ireland and the entire arts industry.
The Trouble I’ve Seen
Eland Classics, £12.99
Few bookshelves of merit are without Steinbeck’s visceral novels about the Great Depression. I suspect fewer, however, have a copy of the journalist Martha Gellhorn’s The Trouble I’ve Seen, four stories from the Great Depression. Happily, Eland Classics has reprinted these novellas with a warts-and-all introduction by one of Gellhorn’s biographers, Caroline Moorhead, for a new generation. Gellhorn was one of a number of journalists employed by Roosevelt’s administration to file reports on how the depression was affecting people in the US. The stories in this volume are creative pieces about the period and are described as “fiction crafted with documentary accuracy”. They have lost none of their power to move with the passage of time and will strike a very deep chord. “We all had it better once, Mrs Maddison decided. We were real folks once; we had places to live, and we had families, and we knew what we’d be doing the next year and the next one.”
PÓL Ó MUIRÍ
Ireland’s Arctic Siege
Kevin C Kearns
Gill Macmillan, €14.99
For the past two centuries, the year 47 has not been a lucky one in Irish history; 1847, or “Black 47”, was the worst year of the Great Famine and 1947, as this thoroughly researched and vigorously written book shows, saw a winter of great suffering due to the freezing conditions. From mid-January to mid-March, when the temperatures were at times lower in Ireland than in Antarctica, the country experienced five major blizzards, with snowdrifts as deep as six metres. An estimated 600 people died directly from the cold, with many more dying from the flu and an increase in TB. The great freeze was exacerbated by a shortage of fuel and the food rationing that continued after the war. Oral testimonies convey both rural and urban memories of villages being cut off, public transport coming to a halt, furniture being burned for warmth and people starving to death, especially in the Dublin tenements. This valuable social history shows clearly the chasm between rich and poor in late-1940s Ireland.