Books in brief: Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s murder told in detailed account

Plus reviews of The Awakening, The Sea View Has Me Again, We, Harrow the Boys and Tales We Tell Ourselves

A Dream of Death is a true crime novel on the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in west Cork.

A Dream of Death is a true crime novel on the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in west Cork.

 

A Dream of Death
By Ralph Riegel
Gill, €16.99
“A combination of unforeseen circumstances, unfortunate human error and simple bad luck for investigators meant that what initially appeared to be a case likely to see an early breakthrough proved anything but straightforward or easily resolved,” writes Ralph Riegel about the  murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, whose battered body was found near her west Cork holiday home on December 23rd, 1996. The case still remains unresolved. Riegel begins with biographical sketches of Toscan du Plantier and of Ian Bailey, who became the chief suspect, and then meticulously takes us through various investigations and a whole series of court cases (mainly taken by Bailey himself) right up to the Paris 2019 murder case convicting him in absentia. This tragic story of multiple losses, with no winners, is told in a readable, detailed and balanced manner. – Brian Maye

The Awakening: A History of the Western Mind AD 500-1700
By Charles Freeman
Head of Zeus
The Awakening is a remarkable work of scholarship by esteemed historian Charles Freeman. In this 800-page tome, the author of The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason, turns his attention to investigating the history of the western mind from AD 500-1700. Freeman invites us to explore the development of Greek and Roman thought, the founding of universities, the influence of Christianity (which does not make for complimentary reading), and the key figures whose political, scientific and philosophical ideas shaped the world that we live in today. The book is a fine production, adorned with coloured images of frescos and ancient manuscripts. The layout, however, could be more conducive to accessing The Awakening as a reference book. – Brigid O’Dea

The Sea View Has Me Again: Uwe Johnson in Sheerness
By Patrick Wright
Repeater, £25
If you are looking for a straight biography, then keep browsing. If, however, you are after an eccentric, brilliant, digressive, idiosyncratic, social-historical door stopper to get lost in, then Patrick Wright has produced something special. Wright uses psychogeography and psychobiography to bleed the life of Johnson through the veins of Sheerness, thus giving life to the town. In a sprawling narrative that layers the kernel of Johnson’s life, he also creates a beguiling memento mori to a place that has often been left for dead by central authorities, and a German writer who moved there from New York with (at worst) something of a death wish, or (at best) with the overwhelming burden of finishing his magnum opus “Anniversaries”. A best book of 2020 contender. – NJ McGarrigle

We
By Yevgeny Zamyatin, tr. Bela Shayevich
Canongate, £14.99
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin is a seminal dystopian classic. Its vision of a future society subjugated by a supreme power is believed to have influenced Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. But with multiple translations already available, this 100th anniversary edition needs to be more than a birthday card. And it is. There’s an introduction by Margaret Atwood, an essay by Ursula K Le Guin and a 1946 review by George Orwell, but the real value is the bright, modern-feeling translation by Bela Shayevich. It compares well with the two other translations on my shelf, by Natasha Randall and Clarence Brown, to which Shayevich pays tribute in her translator’s note. This timely and thoughtful edition is a fitting tribute to book of lasting influence. – Rónán Hession

Harrow the Boys
By Paul Whyte
Maverick House, €9.99
In the hillside settlement of Christ King, Ram and the other locals eke out a kind of living in the midst of the drowned landscape of the now perpetually flooded midwest of Ireland. In a vision of the future that will only become more relevant, Paul Whyte stages an existential struggle for survival in the face of environmental devastation. In the now drowned Glen of Aherlow, Ram and his friends discover a darkness they could never have imagined.
The use of the present tense throughout is a double-edged sword, ratcheting up and sustaining tension on the one hand, veering dangerously close to action thriller cliché on the other. But at the centre of this science fiction morality tale, Ram’s tenacity and determination to survive captivate the reader, drawing them further into a world that feels deceptively familiar, tragically alien. Vivid, descriptive and intriguingly original, Harrow the Boys offers a uniquely Irish take on the dystopian thriller genre. – Becky Long

Tales We Tell Ourselves
By Carlo Gébler
New Island, €16.95
Giovanni Boccaccio’s original The Decameron has been considered a masterpiece of early Italian prose for more than seven centuries. Set over 10 days, it is presented as a collection of tales told by a group of young women and men, sheltering in a Florence villa against the approaching threat of a pandemic. Substitute Covid-19 for the Black Death and those 700 years fall away rapidly. Tales We Tell Ourselves presents selected stories from Bocaccio’s seminal work, stripped of the original framing device of his Florence villa. Retold by Gébler, Boccaccio’s central message is made accessible to a new and tragically cognisant audience; we need each other in order to survive, and even as we acknowledge the inevitability of death, we must remember to live. At once a retelling and a thought-provoking work of fiction in its own right, Tales We Tell Ourselves offers a sanctuary to readers in these troubled times. – Becky Long

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