Browser: A warm, complex and luminous novel on the crucial acts of love

Brief reviews of Summer Brother, Semicolon and Farming in Modern Irish Literature

Jaap Robben’s  Summer Brother is a  warm, complex and luminous novel on these profound moments of ambiguity, and on the small, crucial acts of love

Jaap Robben’s Summer Brother is a warm, complex and luminous novel on these profound moments of ambiguity, and on the small, crucial acts of love

 

Summer Brother
By Jaap Robben
World Editions, £12.99
Living with his inept, neglectful and volatile father in an old caravan on the wrong side of the tracks, 13-year-old Brian is left to look after his older brother Lucien, who has been moved out of his residential care home. Unsparing on the brutal humiliations of Lucien’s limiting physical and mental condition, there are graphic depictions of care, from nappies to medication. Yet there is a flowering tenderness to how Brian communicates with his brother, all while desire blooms in his stomach for a girl in Lucien’s home. A voice which is clear, bright and childlike on the brink of maturity, the narrative crosses lines from neglect to necessity, from burden to joy. A warm, complex and luminous novel on these profound moments of ambiguity, and on the small, crucial acts of love. – Ruth McKee

Semicolon
By Cecelia Watson
4th Estate, £8.99
Italian humanists invented the semicolon in the 15th century as an aid to clarity; by the late 1800s, it had become “downright trendy” but latterly has been regarded as “unwieldy” and even “offensive”. The book follows a chronological approach as it seeks to explain how “the semicolon is a place where our anxieties and our aspirations about language, class and education are concentrated”. Professional grammarians, obsessed with rules, proliferated in the 19th century and confused more than clarified. Legal cases caused by disputes over semicolons are considered and famous writers’ semicolon usage (such as Raymond Chandler, Herman Melville and Henry James) is explored imaginatively and with interpretative flair. How “Standard Written English” is wrapped up in politics and power in the US is thought-provoking in this refreshingly unpedantic treatment. – Brian Maye

Farming in Modern Irish Literature
By Nicholas Grene
Oxford University Press, £60
Grene surveys agriculture’s presence in Irish writing from the turn of the 20th century onwards, making the important contribution of collecting and positioning these narratives within the island’s history, ideals and social structure. Analysis on expected topics such as land inheritance, late marriages and community relations coincides with novel insight regarding the special case of the Irish farm memoir, how such stories respond to the Irish Literary Revival and the distance from the typical Irish agricultural experience often required by the writers who address it. Grene ultimately answers why a nation that, although belatedly, has exchanged an agricultural existence for common modernity, is still preoccupied by farming in its literature. Both thoughtful and accessible, he shows us how the story of the Irish farm is the story of Ireland itself. – Ryan Dennis

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