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4.2 out of 5 stars17
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on 14 May 2010
Wonderfully engaging book written in a very typical deprecating "Norn Iron" tone.
I was born in NI in the same timescale as the book and left in my mid 20's and I found this book to be so similar to my own upbringing and the characters so real and identifiable - I completely related to them...this for me is an achingly accurate portrayal of the lives of middle class country catholic girls in the 70's and 80's.
The convent schooling, the masses, the mad relations; the army; the checkpoints; the violence...it's all there.
This book made me weep and laugh....the sheer honesty and depth of Deirdre's writing is almost too painful to bear at times.
If you really want to understand the era of the "troubles" then this book is a must read.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 20 February 2014
Deirdre Madden's short, yet powerful novel 'One by One in the Darkness' follows the story of three sisters: Helen, Kate and Sally, who have been brought up in the Roman Catholic faith in Northern Ireland. Focusing on a week in the sisters' lives shortly before the IRA ceasefire in 1994, and after their father has been killed, the author then moves backwards and forwards in time, as she relates the story of the girls' childhoods during the 1960s and 1970s. This novel, although focusing on one family, is not just their story, but the story of many, who live, work and love in the midst of Ireland's troubles. Helen, the eldest sister, and the first of her family to go to university, becomes a solicitor specialising in terrorist cases; she lives and works in Belfast and throws herself into her work to the detriment of her personal life. Kate, the middle daughter, bright, stylish and beautiful, leaves Ireland to live and work in London as a journalist, changing the spelling of her name to Cate, in order not to sound too Irish; and then there is the youngest sister, Sally, who stays on in the family home in the country and is a strong and constant source of support to her widowed mother.

As we read of the girls' childhood years, where the author writes evocatively of the old family house and with an evident and deep affection for the Irish landscape, we are reminded of how what happens in our formative years can significantly affect the way we approach life and how we relate to people in later life. And when the story moves to events in the present day, we learn of how the three women and their mother cope with the tragic death of their beloved father and husband, and of the grief that follows; we also read of their father's brother, who is haunted by the killing and of his feelings of guilt that he should have been the one to have died. As we read on, we are shown how civil unrest and violence deeply and lastingly affect the lives of all involved; but we also see how life must go on, even after a part of one's own world has been shattered.

This is a poignant, beautifully written and quietly transforming story by a very accomplished writer. If you like your stories light and prefer a linear narrative, then this may not be to your taste; but if you enjoy beautifully written stories with an emphasis more on language than plot, and where the story is gradually revealed, then this deftly composed novel should make for a rewarding read for you.

4.5 Stars.

Also recommended by the same author: Nothing is Black;Remembering Light and Stone and Time Present and Time Past.
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Cate Quinn is a successful magazine journalist living and working in London. She returns home to her middle class catholic family in Northern Ireland carrying a secret.

Over the course of her week long visit, we discover her secret and learn about the turbulent history of the Quinn family. The story moves around in time and the viewpoint switches between Cate, her sisters Helen and Sally, and their mother Emily.

The book tells the story of the troubles from the perspective of a farming family and its three children, the charming one, the serious one and the fragile, homely one. As young girls they witness the civil rights marches, and as they mature and forge their own careers as writer, lawyer and teacher, they are touched in different ways and in the same way by the tragedies which surround them.

As this is the Northern Irish conflict told from a catholic perspective, while there us condemnation of psychopathic excess, there is also an understanding of the inequalities and unfairness in society which gave rise to the 'armed struggle'. The IRA men are no faceless monsters, but family members, friends and classmates.

As well as being a story of the impact of the political on the personal, this is also a story of a family. A tale of the love and friction between generations and between siblings. It is about how the children both rebel against their parents and mirror their life choices.

This is a book which is heavy on character and the exploration of relationships ,and lighter on plot. While it tells the history of a family over twenty five years and more, everything is based around one event, which is openly discussed rather than being held back to create suspense.

The book is at its strongest in recreating the experiences of childhood, the embarrassed boredom of visiting an unfriendly relative, the mystery of adult conflict, the joy of a small unexpected treat, the unconditional love of and for a parent.

At times, the storytelling style can become a little disorienting as the viewpoint changes between characters and as the narrative jumps backwards and forwards in time.

In a nutshell, this is a beautifully written story of the bonds and the conflicts with a family set against the conflicts and bonds in wider society during a very particular period of modern history.

The book ends on both a note of hope and of bleakness. In society there are the first hints of progress towards some form of settlement but right at the end Madden makes the meaning of her title clear, and it is a message of desolate loneliness.

Highly recommended although one word of warning about the Kindle edition - there are no apostrophes, which gets extremely irritating
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This book takes place over the space of a week in the life of a family, Emily the mother, and three daughters, Helen, Cate and Sally. They live just outside Belfast on a small farm and Cate has come home from her London job to give her mother and sisters news that she knows will be unwelcome.

The book dips frequently into the past, the lyrical beauty of their surroundings and their happy childhood on the farm from which they wring a meagre living. Helen now lives in Belfast coming home every weekend. She is a lawyer, currently finding it hard to hide her contempt for the man she is pledged to defend in court. They are Catholics, and their father's brother Brian has been involved peripherally in the IRA. Their father, Charlie, was killed by Loyalists while at Brian's house. Brian was the intended victim. Cate has found it impossible to visit her Uncle's house since the killing.

The family background is delivered in episodes by one or the other of the sisters - there is one unpleasant and one loveable grandmother, along with the memories of their wonderful father. The younger brother, Peter, has some mental problems, but lives with his brother Brian and Lucy, Brian's wife, and their three children, and is cared for at home during his difficult episodes. The girls' schooling is well depicted - Helen the workhorse, Cate the princess, with her clothes and make-up, easily passing exams, and Sally, the youngest, who became a schoolteacher not exactly by choice. No one is untouched by the harrowing events of the Troubles. Yet it the book also shows the resilience of Ireland's Catholic community, even as they are face to face with the stark realities.

This book touches upon the ambiguities of Irish life, particularly as it relates to Irish women and their families, and the cruelties of the Troubles. It's a beautifully percipient book, gentle and sad, yet never maudlin, it gives a real insight into the way the Troubles have infected the lives of the people of Ireland. It is a short book, 181pp, yet within it is the heaviest burden. I found it hard to read some sections. It wraps itself around you, with truth and beauty, along with the harm done.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 8 January 2013
Deirdre Madden's short, yet powerful novel 'One by One in the Darkness' follows the story of three sisters: Helen, Kate and Sally, who have been brought up in the Roman Catholic faith in Northern Ireland. Focusing on a week in the sisters' lives shortly before the IRA ceasefire in 1994, and after their father has been killed, the author then moves backwards and forwards in time, as she relates the story of the girls' childhoods during the 1960s and 1970s. This novel, although focusing on one family, is not just their story, but the story of many, who live, work and love in the midst of Ireland's troubles. Helen, the eldest sister, and the first of her family to go to university, becomes a solicitor specialising in terrorist cases; she lives and works in Belfast and throws herself into her work to the detriment of her personal life. Kate, the middle daughter, bright, stylish and beautiful, leaves Ireland to live and work in London as a journalist, changing the spelling of her name to Cate, in order not to sound too Irish; and then there is the youngest sister, Sally, who stays on in the family home in the country and is a strong and constant source of support to her widowed mother.

As we read of the girls' childhood years, where the author writes evocatively of the old family house and with an evident and deep affection for the Irish landscape, we are reminded of how what happens in our formative years can significantly affect the way we approach life and how we relate to people in later life. And when the story moves to events in the present day, we learn of how the three women and their mother cope with the tragic death of their beloved father and husband, and of the grief that follows; we also read of their father's brother, who is haunted by the killing and of his feelings of guilt that he should have been the one to have died. As we read on, we are shown how civil unrest and violence deeply and lastingly affect the lives of all involved; but we also see how life must go on, even after a part of one's own world has been shattered.

This is a poignant, beautifully written and quietly transforming story by a very accomplished writer. If you like your stories light and prefer a linear narrative, then this may not be to your taste; but if you enjoy beautifully written stories with an emphasis more on language than plot, and where the story is gradually revealed, then this deftly composed novel should make for a rewarding read for you.

4.5 Stars.

Also recommended by the same author: Nothing is Black;Remembering Light and Stone;Time Present and Time Past
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 22 November 2011
A slim, but extremely rewarding novel about Northern Ireland during the heyday of the IRA, and about three sisters who, resist though they might, become caught up in their country's turmoil. Madden alternates between the story of the sisters in the present day as they cope with their grief over the death of their father, killed by a hit-man, and get used to the idea of Cate, the middle sister, becoming a single mother, and the story of their childhood and adolescence, growing up on a Northern Irish farm in a close-knit family. There are some wonderfully painterly descriptions of the Irish countryside, and even of Belfast. All three sisters: intense, workaholic Helen, glamorous Kate/Cate whose elegance hides a thoughtful and rather melancholy personality, and Sally, home-loving but also emotionally strong and steady, are beautifully brought to live, as are other members of their family. There is a great deal of shocking but also fascinating information about terrorism in Northern Ireland, and about growing up Catholic in a predominantly Protestant country. And Madden writes more beautifully than almost any other contemporary writer. Best of all, there's a sense that, even at the worse times, the human spirit is indomitable and finds ways to survive. An excellent book from one of the greatest writers of today.
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on 3 December 1998
Deirdre Madden's novel is a wonderous thing. It's heartwarming, frightening, saddening, joyful, trivial, vital, and alive. It's a book about the family, the individual, love, hate, forgiveness, unforgiveness, betrayal, hypocrisy, marriage, parenthood, war, peace and more. What's more, it is one of the best novels of Irish Catholic life I have yet read, up there with John McGahern's Amongst Women. Madden differs from McGahern, however, in that her portrayal is of a warm, tender family with much humour and compassion, destroyed by a single, shocking, act of violence. The depiction of Northern Ireland society from the 60s to the 90s is affectionate and bitter by turns, but always honest. This book really is one of the best things I have read this decade. Do yourself a favour and read it too. You won't be disappointed. Unless you're an arse.
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This book takes place over the space of a week in the life of a family, Emily the mother, and three daughters, Helen, Cate and Sally. They live just outside Belfast on a small farm and Cate has come home from her London job to give her mother and sisters news that she knows will be unwelcome.

The book dips frequently into the past, the lyrical beauty of their surroundings and their happy childhood on the farm from which they wring a meagre living. Helen now lives in Belfast coming home every weekend. She is a lawyer, currently finding it hard to hide her contempt for the man she is pledged to defend in court. They are Catholics, and their father's brother Brian has been involved peripherally in the IRA. Their father, Charlie, was killed by Loyalists while at Brian's house. Brian was the intended victim. Cate has found it impossible to visit her Uncle's house since the killing.

The family background is delivered in episodes by one or the other of the sisters - there is one unpleasant and one loveable grandmother, along with the memories of their wonderful father. The younger brother, Peter, has some mental problems, but lives with his brother Brian and Lucy, Brian's wife, and their three children, and is cared for at home during his difficult episodes. The girls' schooling is well depicted - Helen the workhorse, Cate the princess, with her clothes and make-up, easily passing exams, and Sally, the youngest, who became a schoolteacher not exactly by choice. No one is untouched by the harrowing events of the Troubles. Yet it the book also shows the resilience of Ireland's Catholic community, even as they are face to face with the stark realities.

This book touches upon the ambiguities of Irish life, particularly as it relates to Irish women and their families, and the cruelties of the Troubles. It's a beautifully percipient book, gentle and sad, yet never maudlin, it gives a real insight into the way the Troubles have infected the lives of the people of Ireland. It is a short book, 181pp, yet within it is the heaviest burden. I found it hard to read some sections. It wraps itself around you, with truth and beauty, along with the harm done.
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on 19 October 2013
The story is set during one week shortly before the IRA ceasefire in 1994. Three sisters, Helen, Sally and Kate relate and recollect their childhood during the 1960s and 1970s at the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland. The catalyst for these recollections is the return of the eldest sister Kate, (who now refers to herself as Cate), who abruptly leaves London where she works as a successful journalist for a glossy magazine as an event has forced her to re-evaluate her life.
The book's chapters alternate between the return of Cate to Ireland and the three sister's recollections of their childhood. Cate's life changing event is not that difficult to guess and strangely it is revealed rather early on the book so breaking any sense of tension regarding that particular plotline.
The sister's childhood is almost idyllic. Their parents own a farm an hour's drive from Derry. This distance from the cities and towns of Northern Ireland keeps the horrors of the troubles at arm's length as it also must have felt to those on mainland Britain. The girl's only connection to the Irish troubles was during their visits to towns like Antrim where they would witness preparations for the Orange Walk; Union Jacks hung out of windows, Orange arches with symbols of a compass, a set square and ladder painted brightly on them.

"And yet for all this they knew that their lives, so complete in themselves were off centre in relation to the society beyond those fields and houses"

However, this insular life soon changed when the British troops moved into Northern Ireland in 1969. With British Army checkpoints around their county and the subsequent visits to the sister's farm by soldiers the troubles in its many nefarious guises had intruded into the sister's childhood.
With the atrocity that was Bloody Sunday in 1972 the troubles also came to mainland Britain with the bombing of the Aldershot Headquarters by the IRA. I mention these events as I believe that the sister's farm may be alluding to the British mainland during the same period of time of the 1960s and 1970s.
I found the story interesting but not fascinating. Each of the sister's characters was used as clichéd ciphers for Ireland. The eldest sister Kate loves Ireland but needs to leave its sectarian bigotry and religious intractability and becomes a success which she wouldn't have found if she had stayed in Ireland. The middle sister, Helen becomes a lawyer and defends terrorists even though a horrific experience has befallen her family. The third sister, Sally becomes a primary school teacher like her mother. She hates and loves Ireland in equal measure but stays due to her loyalty to her mother.
The dialogue is rather lumpen and incongruous. There were times when the dialogue did not ring true especially that spoken by the sisters.
Helen's gay friend David is a superfluous character and seems only to have been shoe-horned into the story to possibly prove how open minded Helen is.
Of all the fictional books that have been written about the troubles, Cal by Bernard Maclaverty or Gerry Seymour's Journeyman Tailor to name but a few, One by One in the Darkness in my opinion would find it difficult to a part of the any list of the top twenty books on the subject of Northern Ireland and its conflict.
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on 3 September 2013
I wanted to read this book because i am interested in Ireland and the troubles. It is an excellent read and I was hooked from the first page, wanting to know what had happened to the main character both recently and in the past. It is good story telling and with strong female characters. I enjoy when a book runs on two levels and you find the two equally gripping and are happy to move from the present to the past and back again. It helped me to understand what life must have been like during the troubles in Ireland for a family in a rural location and seemingly on the edge of things, but finally drwan into it.It's not so much how they dealt with the impact at the time but how events affected all their lives as they came to terms with those events, and how that makes them the people they become. I will definitely read more from Deirdre Madden.
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