I’m not sure where Ruth Dudley Edwards picked up the expression ‘hater’, but I am definitely not a fan of her use of it. This is a serious book. Sure, it has moments of brevity (most notably a famine joke in the footnotes), but calling Thomas Clarke a hater more than once is jarring. It’s also oddly dismissive and reductive. But then, that can be said about a lot of this book. I enjoyed the structure of the book – a chapter about each of the signatories of the proclamation, and then a few chapters on how they came together and how their lives ended, although this format did lead to the wider context often being overlooked – but it’s clear from the outset that Dudley Edwards is not a supporter of the rising. Fair enough. Not everyone is, and not everyone should be. But there are times when she seems to be going out of her way to smear the seven men she’s writing about. My eyebrows got a work out as I read through some of her thoughts and conclusions. It’s a good book though, one that manages to hold your interest through the tedious confusion of the many organisations set up to reinvigorate Irish culture and/or resist British rule. I particularly enjoyed her frequent mentions of many of the women connected to ‘The Seven’. These women are often forgotten about but their influence on Irish politics should not be overlooked. I have this four stars on Goodreads because, although I didn’t agree with everything Dudley Edwards had to say, I enjoyed the book as a whole, despite the truly terrible cover. Plus, it reminded me that Thomas MacDonagh named his son Donagh – Donagh MacDonagh – which never ceases to baffle me.
Another non-fiction title, though one a little less serious. 148 diaries are found in a skip and Alexander Masters embarks on a quest to discover who they belonged to. A Life Discarded reads a bit like a mystery at times, as Masters extracts information from the diaries and builds a picture of the mystery diarist. One of the key conceits of the early chapters is that the diarist never names themselves, but Masters slips up and gives us the name a few pages before ‘the big reveal’. All of this takes place while a close friend of Masters’ is dying from cancer, which was the weakness of the book for me. While it’s tragic that he suffered such a loss, I’m not interested in reading about his personal life. I’m interested in the mystery diarist. A lot of reviews I’ve read online say the opposite – that they’re interested in Masters but not in the diarist – but this is supposed to be a biography (it’s dewey mark at the library puts it in the history section, oddly enough), and not an autobiographical one. Still, it’s a short read and entertaining on the whole, though there’s so much more I would have liked to know about the diarist.
Belinda McKeon’s debut novel Solace is a beautiful piece of literature, so I had high hopes for Tender. Sadly, they weren’t met. Tender is a well-written book with quite an interesting narrative structure, but I just didn’t believe it. Two characters, Catherine and James, meet in Dublin and become instantly close. Only, do they? We observe their first meeting, and although James talks a lot, there doesn’t seem to be any indication of a bond between them. Although we’re immediately thrust into their closer-than-siblings friendship, I just never believed any of it. Catherine is plagued by uncertainties, and James has led a life of sexual repression. These neuroses feed into each other, providing the plot of Tender, but I could never see in them a genuine friendship. The Ireland it’s set in, late 1990s Ireland, is also not one I recognise. I would have been two or three years younger than Catherine and James during the main period of this book, and my parents are nothing like the restrictive, repressed parents we see in Tender, parents whose attitudes seem wildly outdated, even for pre-Celtic Tiger Ireland. So, while I can admire the artistry in this book, it sadly just wasn’t for me.