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.
Blasphemy: The True, Heartbreaking Story of the Woman Sentenced to Death Over a Cup of Water
In June 2009, women were picking falsa fruit in a field outside the Pakistani village of Ittan Wali. After several hours’ work in the blistering heat, Asia Bibi walked to the well for some water. Suddenly her Muslim fellow workers cried out that this Christian woman had contaminated their water. “Blasphemy” was cited in the ensuing argument and Bibi’s fate was sealed. She was beaten, thrown in prison and subsequently sentenced to death. Under Pakistan’s blasphemy law thousands of innocent people, including religious minorities and Muslims, receive harsh sentences, for reasons that have little to do with religion. Bibi has become a symbol of this law. She describes learning to die while still alive in the most horrendous conditions, unworthy of any democracy. Public figures who showed their support for her have been murdered and her family have gone into hiding. Her story is critical: pressure must come from outside Pakistan against fanaticism and corruption. Royalties from this book aid both Bibi and her family.
Daithí Ó Muirí
Cló Iar-Chonnacht, €10
Daithí Ó Muirí – no connection with this reviewer – has rightly earned a reputation as a writer of good short stories in Irish. In Ré he undertakes the longer form of the novella, but the fluency that marks his short stories is here also. The story is set in an unnamed city with an anonymous woman as the lead character; Ó Muirí draws his reader into enigmatic surroundings. The title itself has many meanings – moon, portion of time, era, stretch of ground, row – and the reader must negotiate those ambiguities. The opening, set in a cavernous hotel, is something akin to Barton Fink in a fairy fort, and, as with all fairy forts, it is easier to enter than to exit. The main character is unsure of her place in the world but so attentive to the tiny details of existence that she is almost overcome by a the tidal wave of her own observations and reflections. PÓL Ó MUIRÍ