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Shadowstory Paperback – 7 Jun 2012
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Roddy Doyle called Johnston the best writer in Ireland. Mesmerising, powerful fiction (Red)
Has many pleasures to offer the reader: elegance of style, sureness of touch, and above all the author's radiant descriptive gift (Independent)
Compelling and very beautiful(Spectator)
Her writing is a joy: dialogue snaps with life while Johnston's distinctive prose is at once supremely comfortable and delightfully brisk(Daily Mail)
About the Author
Jennifer Johnston is one of the foremost Irish writers of her, or any, generation. She has won the Costa (formerly Whitbread) Prize (THE OLD JEST), the Evening Standard Best First Novel Award (for THE CAPTAINS AND THE KINGS), the Yorkshire Post Award, Best Book of the Year (twice, for THE CAPTAINS AND THE KINGS and HOW MANY MILES TO BABYLON?). She has also been shortlisted for the Booker Prize with SHADOWS ON OUR SKIN, and won the Irish Book Awards Lifetime Achievement Award, whose previous recipients include Edna O'Brien, Seamus Heaney, John Banville and John McGahern.
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'Shadowstory' is her latest novel and starts in the Second World War with the main character, Polly, being sent to her paternal grandparents who live in Kildarragh, an old, gently decaying family house by the sea in Ireland. Polly's father is tragically killed at the end of the war and when her mother remarries and has two further children, Polly escapes to her grandparents' home whenever she can. There she spends long, languorous holidays playing, sailing, picnicking and being teased by her Uncle Sam, who is only five years older than her. As both Polly and Sam grow older, Polly is unable to spend as much time at Kildarragh as she would like, but she and Sam grow closer nevertheless. When one day Sam tells Polly he is in love with her, she is a little surprised at first, but she soon begins to realize that she feels the same. However, there is no immediate happy ending for the two of them, as Sam has plans and ambitions that do not include settling down and living in the family home. And then, when Sam is supposed to be studying at Cambridge, something happens -I can't explain further otherwise I shall spoil the story.
Jennifer Johnston has a flair for language and her characterizations are particularly good. Her books are about human relationships; relationships between parents and children, between married partners, between lovers and amongst friends. Her stories are usually written with sensibility, without being overly sentimental; however, if I am absolutely honest, I must say I found `Shadowstory' to be just a little too romantically sentimental for me - that is not to say that I did not enjoy the story, I did. It is a lovely tale of a young girl's coming of age and is a wonderful, old fashioned family story. It is an easy, light read without being inconsequential and, although some of the events in this book are not entirely convincing, this does not detract from the story. I think this novel would make an enjoyable bedtime, holiday or fireside read and, as such, has been bagged by my sister for her winter holiday.
Oddly unsatisfying, the novel hovers between suggesting love is all-important, and rejecting it. Only the family, as a kind of static entity, is important. This rigidity of attitudes leaves the book without a real, moving and active centre. The characterisation is good, and the writing is nothing if not literary, but I questioned why it seemed so full of love, but empty of meaning and action. I was disappointed by the ending in particular, which left the narrator, Polly, on the cusp of aduilthood, yet locked into her adolescent fantasies. It ended too soon, and on a note of fading dismay that nullified much of the fine writing that had gone before. It has an element of a curtain being drawn. As if Johnston is saying: there you go - that's all you're getting. If you want any more, make it up yourself.
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