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Solace Paperback – 26 Apr 2012
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Winner of the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize 2012
An astonishing debut from a brilliant and original new voice in Irish fiction.See all Product description
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Trying to cope with the pressure of delivering an urgent chapter of his thesis and also visiting the farm to help with the hay-making, Mark finds himself becoming stressed and in an effort to relax, he decides to have yet another night out with his friends instead of finishing the chapter of his essay. Across a crowded pub in Dublin, Mark sees a young woman, Joanne Lynch, and is instantly attracted to her - and although the last thing Mark needs right at this moment is to fall in love, it seems that neither of them really have a choice in the matter and before long Joanne and Mark are spending practically all of their free time together. However, things are not straightforward because Mark soon discovers that Joanne is the daughter of the man who was the cause of a bitter rift between the Casey family and the Lynch family and Mark's father is not about to either forgive or forget. And then a tragedy occurs which has life altering consequences for all involved - but I will not say more for fear of spoiling the story for prospective readers.
This is a moving, graceful and quietly powerful story of love, loss and family loyalties where Belinda McKeon demonstrates a precision and a certain wisdom in her writing that belies her reasonably youthful age. She has the ability to reveal deep and complex emotions and writes about loss and grief without becoming overly sentimental which is not always an easy thing to accomplish, making this an absorbing story and certainly one to ponder upon. I found this novel an intense and involving read and have no hesitation in awarding it 4 stars, however I would just like to add that this book does have a rather sombre and melancholic tone, so it is not a book I would recommend if you want a light or uplifting read.
I did keep going and after about fifty pages, the story picked up, and the overly indulgent prose seemed to be reined in, although it did re-appear at intervals. In fairness there were some beautiful individual passages of prose. The overall effect, though, seemed to me to be self-consciously 'literary' . I found it rather odd that the narrative around the big dramatic events of the story was much more sparse and sketchy than the relentless detail applied to trivial things described earlier - they seemed almost glossed over. Having picked up the pace , and my interest, in the middle section of the book, I found the final thirty pages to be really disappointing - for me the story just seemed to lose steam and peter out.
This isn't a bad book, but it just 'missed' with me. The author shows promise so I would probably take a look at any future book releases.
McKeon writes in clear, limpid prose but as the book progresses this clarity seems to dissipate and big dramatic events (pregnancy, death) are passed over with barely a mention. I felt like I'd met these characters before: the farmer father, stolid and stoic, with deep feelings which he's unable to articulate except with his young granddaughter; the son who tries to escape but is increasingly lost in his bright-lights-big-city Dublin life.
This feels very self-consciously literary, to me, and also very `Irish' in terms of its literary allegiances: we can feel the impact of William Trevor, Colm Toibin, but it seems to me that McKeon hasn't quite found a voice of her own yet. There's something slightly too predictable, too self-consciously fashioned about this book, a lack of authenticity almost, as if the author is responding to previous texts rather than having something of her own to say.
So this isn't by any means a bad book: it's elegant, compassionate and quietly intelligent - it just feels a little too steeped in other people's stories to me and its own self-conscious positioning against an Irish literary tradition.
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