Updated to add: At the end of January, I will tally the votes. The title with the most votes will be our read-along book for March. I will announce the title on February 1st; this will give everyone a month to get their hands on a copy. Sorry I wasn’t more clear on the details!
When I was in the midst of planning for the 2011 Ireland Challenge, Serena at Savvy Verse & Wit had the terrific idea to do at least one read-along during the year. Since March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day, I decided that March would be the month for our read-along. I asked for suggestions for titles, but didn’t receive any, so I came up with my own list of possibilities. I’ve created a form where you can vote on the title you’d be most interested in for the read-along.
I’ve decided to make the read-along open to anyone, challenge participant or not. That way, even if you can’t commit to reading two Ireland-related books (the lowest challenge commitment level), you might still read one for the read-along. So, if you’re at all interested in joining us in March, please vote for your top three titles. Here are the choices, with synopses borrowed from GoodReads.
Mothers and Sons: Stories by Colm Toibin
The nine stories in Mothers and Sons examine in depth some of the ways that the bond that is forged–or not–between mothers and their sons is altered, re-formed, or broken forever. In “The Master,” his fictionalized life of Henry James, Toíbín made the reader see and understand the writer more fully than ever before. Similarly, these new stories look at relationships between fully formed adults and, with a few deft strokes, make clear what their mutual history has brought them to. In most cases, they must deal with loss, while trying to grasp the complexities of that sometimes precarious balance between a mother and her son.
In the first story, “The Use of Reason,” a lifelong burglar is nearly brought down by his mother, who talks too much when she drinks in her local pub. In “A Song,” Noel, on the town with a group of his musician friends, ends up in the same bar as his estranged mother, who is asked to sing. She sings an Irish ballad about love and treachery and he is convinced that she is singing directly to him. In “A Priest in the Family,” Molly’s son Frank is accused of abuse, but no one has the courage to tell her until it is almost time for the trial. Her reaction is not entirely predictable. “Three Friends” takes place after a young man attends his mother’s funeral. He joins his friends for a night of carousing and drugs ending with a late-night swim, where he is emboldened to make an overt sexual pass at one of his buddies, with interesting results. The final story, “A Long Winter,” is set in Spain in a remote village. Miquel’s mother drinks. Everyone knows it but Miquel. His father pours out her supply of booze and she leaves the house. So far it’s a simple story. It doesn’t stay that way. Each of these stories has its own gravitas, its own sadness, and that laser-beam of insight that is Toíbín’s trademark.
Faithful Place by Tana French
Back in 1985, Frank Mackey was nineteen, growing up poor in Dublin’s inner city, and living crammed into a small flat with his family on Faithful Place. But he had his sights set on a lot more. He and Rosie Daly were all ready to run away to London together, get married, get good jobs, break away from factory work and poverty and their old lives.
But on the winter night when they were supposed to leave, Rosie didn’t show. Frank took it for granted that she’d dumped him-probably because of his alcoholic father, nutcase mother, and generally dysfunctional family. He never went home again.
Neither did Rosie. Everyone thought she had gone to England on her own and was over there living a shiny new life. Then, twenty-two years later, Rosie’s suitcase shows up behind a fireplace in a derelict house on Faithful Place, and Frank is going home whether he likes it or not.
Getting sucked in is a lot easier than getting out again. Frank finds himself straight back in the dark tangle of relationships he left behind. The cops working the case want him out of the way, in case loyalty to his family and community makes him a liability. Faithful Place wants him out because he’s a detective now, and the Place has never liked cops. Frank just wants to find out what happened to Rosie Daly-and he’s willing to do whatever it takes, to himself or anyone else, to get the job done.
Dubliners by James Joyce
‘I regret to see that my book has turned out un fiasco solenne’. James Joyce’s disillusion with the publication of Dubliners in 1914 was the result of ten years battling with publishers, resisting their demands to remove swear words, real place names & much else, including two stories. Although only 24 when he signed his first publishing contract for the book, Joyce already knew its worth: to alter it in any way would ‘retard the course of civilisation in Ireland’. Joyce’s aim was to tell the truth – to create a work of art that would reflect life in Ireland at the turn of the last century & by rejecting euphemism, reveal to the Irish the unromantic reality the recognition of which would lead to the spiritual liberation of the country. Each of the fifteen stories offers a glimpse of the lives of ordinary Dubliners – a death, an encounter, an opportunity not taken, a memory rekindled – collectively they paint a portrait of a nation.
The Matchmaker of Kenmare by Frank Delaney
“And there’s a legend—she had only vague details—that all couples who are meant to marry are connected by an invisible silver cord which is wrapped around their ankles at birth, and in time the matchmaking gods pull those cords tighter and tighter and draw the couple slowly toward one another until they meet.” So says Miss Kate Begley, Matchmaker of Kenmare, the enigmatic woman Ben MacCarthy meets in the summer of 1943.
As World War II rages on, Ben remains haunted by the mysterious disappearance of his wife, the actress Venetia Kelly. Searching for purpose by collecting stories for the Irish Folklore Commission, he travels to a remote seaside cottage to profile the aforementioned Matchmaker of Kenmare.
Ben is immediately captivated by the forthright Miss Begley, who is remarkably self-assured in her instincts but provincial in her experience. Miss Begley is determined to see that Ben moves through his grief—and a powerful friendship is forged along the way.
But when Charles Miller, a striking American military intelligence officer, arrives on the scene, Miss Begley develops an intense infatuation and looks to make a match for herself. Miller needs a favor, but it will be dangerous. Under the cover of their neutrality as Irish citizens, Miss Begley and Ben travel to London and effectively operate as spies. As they are drawn more deeply and painfully into the conflict, both discover the perils of neutrality—in both love and war.
Steeped in colorful history, The Matchmaker of Kenmare is a stirring story of friendship and sacrifice. New York Times bestselling author Frank Delaney has written a lush and surprising novel, rich as myth, tense as a thriller, and like all grand tales—harrowing, sometimes hilarious, and heartbreaking.
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the years following World War Two. Though skilled at bookkeeping, she cannot find a job in the miserable Irish economy. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn to sponsor Eilis in America — to live and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood “just like Ireland” — she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind.
Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, a blond Italian from a big family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. He takes Eilis to Coney Island and Ebbets Field, and home to dinner in the two-room apartment he shares with his brothers and parents. He talks of having children who are Dodgers fans. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love with Tony, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future.
By far Tóibín’s most instantly engaging and emotionally resonant novel, Brooklyn will make readers fall in love with his gorgeous writing and spellbinding characters.
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle
It is 1968. Patrick Clarke is ten. He loves Geronimo, the Three Stooges, and the smell of his hot water bottle. He can’t stand his little brother Sinbad. His best friend is Kevin, and their names are all over Barrytown, written with sticks in wet cement. They play football, leapers, and jumping to the bottom of the sea. But why didn’t anyone help him when Charles Leavy had been going to kill him? Why do his ma and da argue so much, but act like everything is fine? Paddy sees everything, but he understands less and less. Hilarious and poignant, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha charts the triumphs, indignities, and bewilderment of a young boy and his world, a place full of warmth, cruelty, confusion, and love. Winner of the Booker Prize.
Please vote for your top three choices – I’ll leave voting open until the end of January.