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Books in brief: From the inside story of a rugby referee to the leading lighthouses of Ireland

Plus: Fighting Franco with subversive literature; and the ‘Indiana Jones of the Deep’

Former rugby referee Owen Doyle. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

The Ref’s Call: Memoir of a Rugby Referee

By Owen Doyle (Hachette Books Ireland, £15.99)

Readers of the sports pages of The Irish Times will be familiar with the author’s regular and always interesting observations on rugby matters as seen through the referee’s eyes. The rules – sorry, laws – of rugby are complex and varied and open to interpretation. Herein lies the danger, for a referee’s job is not a popular one. Yet Doyle loved every minute of it. Well, almost. He vividly describes his feelings after having made a bad (wrong) decision or after he’s had a poor game. But these can’t have been many as he rose to international level and, on retirement, as coach to the next generation of Irish referees. Covering some 40 years of a game he so obviously loves, this book is chock-full of anecdotes, observations and a few tales from school. Nor does he mince his words with his trenchant views on head injuries and the lack of better protection of the players. An engaging read for rugby aficionados. Owen Dawson

The Irish Times columns of Owen DoyleOpens in new window ]

Rivers of the Unspoilt World

By David Constantine (Comma Press, £9.99)

Constantine has published poetry, novels and short fiction, and this book is made up of three long-form stories, each different in style, but all working with a common philosophical idea: lives never ending and places connecting, as we record them in written and oral traditions. One life trickles down to another, and can obsess, consume and confound us, with rage, shame, wonderment, or illusion. An academic in pandemic Paris researches the 1871 Commune; a nephew visits an elderly aunt to record family and local history; a 19th-century poet walks in the shadow of his mentor to embark on his biography. Constantine’s sentences shift from sparse to dense; the book is abstract in form and oblique in subject; its rambling nature requires patience in a reader that on balance goes unrewarded. NJ McGarrigle

The Last Days of Terranova

By Manuel Rivas, translated by Jacob Rogers (Archipelago Books, £14)

As Vicenzo Fontana prepares for the closure of the eponymous bookshop inherited from his parents, he reminisces about growing up under the Franco regime when the shop became a focus for political resistance and centre for smuggled books. His tender relationship with his father and his Uncle Eliseo (“the thing with Eliseo was that he spent all day opening up passageways across the limits of reality”) is endearingly evoked, as is his relationship with an Argentinian dissident, and significant, magical and fateful objects in his and their lives are lovingly or heartbreakingly recalled. In the end, it’s not the hostile regime but the greedy landlord’s despicable son and his egregious “boss” who try to put an end to Terranova, but they get their comeuppance in this beautifully told, enchanting story. Brian Maye

The Ship Beneath The Ice

By Mensun Bound (Macmillan, €17.99)

Everybody loves a good shipwreck, according to marine archaeologist Mensun Bound, and Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance, which sank below Antarctic ice over a century ago, was top “tease of our times”. Until he located it, that is, along with an international team in early March of this year (2022), after an earlier attempt in 2019. The Falkland islander – renamed “Indiana Jones of the Deep” by the Discovery Channel – has found some of the world’s best-known marine artefacts. Technology has revolutionised his work, but a sextant reading of the ship’s last co-ordinates taken by Endurance captain Frank Worsley proved extraordinarily accurate. Bound knows how to tell a story, and his access to the diaries of Shackleton and crew offers a unique insight into the approach of a complex Irish adventurer. Lorna Siggins


The Great Lighthouses of Ireland

By David Hare (Gill Books, €27.99)

“I can think of no other edifice constructed by man as altruistic as a lighthouse. They were built only to serve. They weren’t built for any other purpose”. (George Bernard Shaw). Every page of this beautifully produced book underlines this view. The author is perhaps better known as the producer of the much acclaimed TV series of the same name. The topics covered are many – biography, engineering, science, art, wildlife, history, even romance and nostalgia. The lighthouse at Hook Head (1170) is thought by some to be the world’s oldest. Not true, but almost. The quality and beauty of the colour photographs are stunning and one constantly wonders how man ever managed to build these lighthouses on “impossible” locations. Anyone with even a scintilla of saltwater in their veins will relish this read. Owen Dawson

Arrows shot into sea from Hook Head lighthouse in ancient ritualOpens in new window ]

The Jacket: 11 Stories

By Stephen Burgen (DaLoRu Books, £11.99)

All these stories are well worth reading but it may be said that three lack that certain “oomph”; five come close to it, and a further three certainly have it. The latter three are Epiphany, Ima and Due Diligence. Epiphany is highly ironic because the news the writer-protagonist receives after experiencing a long-sought epiphany immediately nullifies the experience. In Ima, a woman finds that her unplanned pregnancy, which she’s at first very undecided whether she’ll continue with, empowers her over her controlling partner. The deeply moving Due Diligence tells how an art historian establishes a close rapport with the daughter of a famous artist; she is interviewing the daughter for a book she’s been commissioned to write on the artist but finds her interviewee a worthier subject of study. Brian Maye