#54. Bad Day in Blackrock (Kevin Power)

Book: Bad Day in Blackrock, by Kevin Power

Genre and Year of Publication: “Fiction” based on a real-life unlawful killing; 2008

Where I got it: Chapters second-hand book store

Length: 235 pages

Briefly: In August 2000, 18-year-old Brian Murphy was kicked to death in an alcohol-fired brawl outside a Dublin nightclub.  Four young men, all with affluent backgrounds, were subsequently tried for his killing (read more here).  This book alleges to be a work of fiction based on this incident, exploring the reasons why such a situation came about and why the Irish justice system ultimately failed the victim’s family.

Comments: This book infuriated me.  It is not fiction, and the disclaimer at the beginning that “all of the characters… are fictional, and are not intended to represent actual persons, living or dead” is an utter LIE.  Of course Conor Harris represents Brian Murphy.  Of course Richard Culhane, Barry Fox and Stephen O’Brien represent Dermot Laide, Desmond Ryan and Sean Mackey.  Of course “Brookfield” represents Blackrock College. Why lie about it?

The book explores the south County Dublin private-school*, rugby-playing subculture which definitely exists, and which produced the situation that led to Brian Murphy’s death.  It is definitely worth exploring.  But please, do it as a genuine work of research, of non-fiction, of scholarship, with standards of decency and with respect for the people and families involved.

Kevin Power can write.  Kevin Power understands the dynamics of young adults in a certain section of contemporary Irish society.  What a pity he chose to use his skills in this way.

(* In Ireland, “private school” means what the English call a “public school” – which is, of course, a private school.)

Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge for the category “Contemporary”; Reading Round Ireland (for Dublin).

Short Story #41. Faeries of the Nile (Mansoura Ez-Eldin)

Deal Me In Reading Challenge: I drew the king of spades.

Story: Faeries of the Nile, by Mansoura Ez-Eldin [in The Granta Book of the African Short Story] (translated from the Arabic by Raphael Cohen)

Comments: Mansoura Ez-Eldin is an Egyptian writer and journalist.  In this story she explores the responses of a woman trapped in a very limited situation: physical poverty, a betraying and abusive husband, the death of their only son.  The “river faeries” sing to the woman, entrance her, seduce her, and she succumbs…  One critic says that it is a story about sexual repression, but I think that it points to much more than just sexual desire.  It is about the woman’s desire for freedom, for self-determination, for a voice.  The story itself gives the woman, Zeenat, no voice: it is told from the points of view of an omniscient narrator, and of the husband.

There are some great phrases: “my wife cried a lot, at her mother’s direction”; “She obeys me as if castigating me with obedience”.

The Guardian’s reviewer found the story “incredibly dated”, and Think Africa Press said it “show[s] a little too strongly the influence of past generations and styles… Faeries of the Nile is a story in the tradition of tiresome magical realism”.  But I agree more with the Goodreads reviewer who calls it “a great piece of imaginative literature” and other more positive reviews.  I would be happy to read more by this author.

#41. Acts of Faith (Philip Caputo)

Book: Acts of Faith, by Philip Caputo

Genre and Year of Publication: War fiction; 2006

Where I got it: The Open Door used book shop (read between January and August; reviewed in October)

Length: 688 pages

Briefly, it’s a novel set in Sudan (now South Sudan) during the 1990s, about the ambiguity of foreign (particularly American) aid to the civilian victims of the civil war.

Comments: This book got rave reviews in the press (Caputo was compared to Graham Greene, inter alia), but the reviews from regular readers on Goodreads are more nuanced.  I’m with the latter.  At almost 700 pages this is a giant book – dare I suggest that a more skilled writer might have been able to convey the story and the message in 500?  That the author felt the need to include a two page character list indicates complexity.  I frequently wasn’t sure, especially at the beginning, who was who.  The themes are fascinating, but I was frequently bored, putting the book down for long periods at a time.  The love affairs in particular are unconvincing, and I found the very last scene in the book particularly unconvincing.  There’s violence, sex, mixed motives, death, unforeseen consequences, politics, religion, love, hate, heat and more in this book.  I’m glad I read it, but more for the feeling of accomplishment at having finished it that for actual enjoyment of the reading itself.

Challenges: Full House Challenge for the category “Published before 2013”

Ever Returning

So I’ve been MIA for a bit – not altogether from reading, but certainly from blogging about it.

And I’m back, at least for a little while.

Constantly Returning Reader, that’s me.

To catch up, I plan to write individual posts for books that count for 2014 reading challenges, but probably will go with a generic not-much-more-than-a-list-of-titles post for others.

And that’s okay.

So let’s get on with it.


2014 challenges, at the half-way mark

So, how’s it going?

Some good, some not so good, one definitely doubtful.

My favourite challenge is also, unsurprisingly, the one in which I’m making most progress, the Full House Challenge.  14 out of 25 books completed = 56%, and I’ve begun at least two others.

For the Deal Me In short story challenge I’m a just a little behind, 24 books out of 52 completed = 46%.  Blogging about each story is not strictly speaking part of the rules, but I feel that if I don’t do that I’m not going to keep in the challenge at all.  If I can read and review two stories per week instead of one over the next month, I’ll be back on track.

The Back to the Classics challenge is not going well.  I thought I’d really like this one, but I’ve only completed two books out of a total of ten-and-a-movie, 18%.  Perhaps with careful planning I’ll be able to get back on track here, but I can see it being a rush at the end of the year… Let’s keep working towards it.

Read Scotland: I signed up for 1-4 books, so technically I’ve achieved my goal by reading two books.  But I’ve got a couple more on my list, hopefully I’ll get to them.

The Africa Challenge also has a low target, 5 books.  As yet I’ve only completed one (20%), but two others are well in hand and I think I’ll be able to make this one by the end of the year.

For my personal Reading round Munster challenge, I need to read one more book by the end of September.  I know the particular book I want to read, and need to order it (secondhand paperback) soon.  I’ve read 5 out of 6, = 83% completed.

I’ve read 3 out of 6 books for the I Love Library Books challenge, exactly 50% so I’m right on target there.

Audio books is another one where I can say, technically, that I’ve achieved my goal, because my goal was 1-5 books and I’ve listened to 2.  Audio books just don’t work well with my lifestyle, so I may leave it at that.

That leaves two other challenges where I’m doing well: The Non-Fiction reading challenge (13 out of 16-20, i.e. over 80%) and Ebook reading challenge (19 out of 25, i.e. 76%)  I know I’ll be tempted to go up to higher levels of challenge in both of those, but perhaps I need to focus on catching up in some other areas first.

Overall, I reckon I’ve read (and blogged) about 57% of my target reading for the combined challenges.  So my goals remain achievable, but I will need to be strategic in my choices!

From Board Book to Picture Book: up-levelling at the I Love Library Books reading challenge

Another upgrade: as I’ve completed my (not over-ambitious!) target of three books for Board Level in the I Love Library Books Challenge, I’m daring – oh, wow – to move up to the next level, Picture Book, which needs a total of six books.

I just might even join in a Library Books Readathon that’s coming up in June – but I’m not committing to it just yet.

Okay, over to the host site, Book Dragon’s Lair, to register my new status.

#24. A Year in Tuscany (Barbara Athanassiadis)

Book: A Year in Tuscany, by Barbara Athanassiadis

Genre: Memoir, not quite travel-style

Where I got it: Free Kindle download

Length: 178 pages

Briefly, it’s an account by a Greek artist of a year she spent in Tuscany, Italy.

Comments: Initially I was a bit put off because the section “Book Reviews of A Year in Tuscany“, which is at the beginning, is way too long (my Kindle was showing 6% and I still hadn’t got to the actual text of the memoir), and some of them are not in great English.  But it got better.  The author is an artist and has an excellent knowledge of Renaissance art, as well as of Florentine history, which makes the book really interesting.  This is not a regular guide book, it is about the daily details of living – as a foreigner – in this part of Italy.  She gives us portraits of the local people with whom she interacted, not sparing us their foibles.  She describes the magnificent Tuscan scenery and the exploratory journeys she undertook in a borrowed VW Beetle.  Her personal reasons for taking this year away from her husband and family are touched on but not laboured, which is tasteful.  I couldn’t help wondering what the local people thought of their year-long Greek guest?

Challenges: Non-fiction challenge; ebook reading challenge.

Short story abandoned: The Penal Colony (Franz Kafka)

I drew the four of hearts, to which I had assigned The Penal Colony by Franz Kafka (available at http://www.kafka-online.info/in-the-penal-colony.html).  I knew Kafka might be tough going.

In fact I had to stop reading this at page 9 (of 23), because the level of violence was simply too much for me.

I guess I’ll add in some other story at the end to make up.


Book: Pepper, by Sinmisola Ogunyinka

Genre: Romance

Where I got it: Free Kindle download

Briefly, it’s: a contemporary romance set in Calabar, Nigeria.

What I liked: The Nigerian authors that I’ve dipped into up to now have all been Big Names, dealing with Serious Topics.  This is a much lighter book (though the author has her own serious agenda – read the book to find out), and much more accessible.  I loved its unselfconscious Nigerian-ness.  It brings the reader into a very different cultural world: that of ardent Evangelical Nigerian Christians.  It was a great read, and I’m delighted I downloaded it.