Top positive review
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Outstanding writing, superb observations
on 10 March 2010
Hugo Hamilton, relying to some extent perhaps from his own Irish-German background, uses a traditional but still no less effective means to examine modern Western society, lifestyles and attitudes through fresh eyes, by using an outsider alien to the culture and the finer points of language and behaviour - specifically here through the means of Vid Cosic, a Serbian immigrant looking for work and the chance to start a new life in Ireland - as a means to examine the less edifying attitudes that they often hide.
The book's opening line observation that "You have a funny way of doing things here" proves then to be an accurate one, with potential misunderstandings leading to some humorous incidents as well as more serious ones, pinpointing the fine dividing line between camaraderie and enmity, between joking and seriousness, between word and intent that lies at the heart not only of the nature of the Irish - although its observations here are sharp and pertinent particularly within a certain class - but in the normal everyday interaction of wider society, relating to people, families and friendships in general and particularly in how we each carry with us the weight of the past.
Vid Cosic is a personable and an interesting character to adopt in the making of such observations. Coming from Serbia, his family victims of the violence there, he himself has been injured in a car accident that he claims has made him forget much of his own past. Young and in a strange place, escaping from a violent conflict back home, he could be forgiven for seeing things in black-and white terms. The need to fit in however is a vital impulse within everyone and Vid's dilemma, as it is for everyone, is how far one must go to be accepted while retaining one's honesty, dignity and integrity. Even though he forms a close friendship with a lawyer, Kevin Concannon, and becomes a close friend of his family, Vid still seems to remain an outsider. It's as if all the troubles of the Irish seem to be expressed or reflected through the strained relationships of the Concannon family, where Vid is a welcome and helpful visitor, but one who is kept at a respectful distance by a culture and a past that he cannot completely comprehend. It's a distance however that also keeps the different generations of the Concannon family from relating to one another.
As interesting as these ideas and the central character are (and there are quite a lot of other relevant contemporary social issues raised in passing), it's the means that Hugo Hamilton chooses to illustrate the story through a contemporary violent incident and by one or two in the past, linking the underlying sentiments behind them, that give the novel an additional element of suspense and tension. Hand in the Fire is a wonderfully readable book then, one that has real characters facing real-life dilemmas to draw you in, but with the subtle touch of an insightful and brilliant writer capable of drawing out deeper elements of self-examination and recognition in relation to modern society and our place in it in a manner that any reader can identify with.