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4.1 out of 5 stars
Reading In The Dark
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on 13 July 2015
Book not as described. It was not in 'very good condition' as it had notes written over the text. Disappointing.
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on 24 January 2010
This is a poetical, touching and vivid evocation of Northern Ireland in the 1940s and 1950s. But unlike other memoirs it has a story to tell, of a web of betrayal and deception within a family caught up with the IRA in the struggles over Irish independence in the 1920s. We live with the main character as he struggles to unravel the truth over the years of who betrayed who, in a country and culture suffering from its past and from the absolutism of its politics. His bafflement is ours. Yet the book is more than that: the schoolroom scenes particularly well portray the balance between the cruelty of the priests and their genuine desire to educate their charges. If you read this try to do so in one or two sessions, as that helps to follow the thread.
8 people found this helpful
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This is a very enjoyable read. Written by Seamus Deane it tells the story of a young boy growing up in Post War Derry, and about the tensions in a city divided by religious and political conflict. The boy's family nurse a dark secret which he longs to find out about, and as the story unravels, one realises that the secret has the power to shatter the entire fabric of their family life. It also focusses on the deep seated hatred in communities where terrible wrongs have taken place, yet the perpetrators are too hardened by hatred to find it within themselves to repent. This book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1996 but missed out to Graham Swift's 'Last Orders'.
2 people found this helpful
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on 20 January 2000
Reading in the Dark is a novel about a boy who grows up during the midst of the troubles in Ireland. We are never told his name, due to the fact that I think it is meant to show that conflict can affect everyone, regardless of who they are. This boy has grown up in a strong Catholic family in an area of Derry, and his views are affected by those around him, particularly the religious people. There is a noticeable them and us feeling from the young narrator, yet this is not chil-like - it reflects how society was at the time. The book is written in prose as a record, almost diary-like. It spans several decades, from when he is a young boy in 1945, ending in 1961. During this time he obviusly becomes a young man. At the heart of the story is the dissappearance of the boys Uncle Eddie, accused of being an informer, in 1922. There is great mistrust, confusion and divide in the family, and only late in the book is the truth revealed. The book is set in the real world setting of Derry, yet there is another, mystical side to the book, based on the old Irish Celtic legends, such as the Sun-Fort of Grianan. The references to Irish traditional culture reflect how Ireland was before the troubles, and could still be. This brings a stark contrast that is effective but slightly confusing. The characters in the book are very extreme, such as the eccentric Crazy Joe Johnson, who's apparent insanity belies is involvement in the family's strife, and the emotional but heartbreakingly quiet members of his family. These characters bring extreme vies and help to accentuate the events. The tragedy of the troubles go right into the family, causing much heartache. The author is trying to make us feel how the destruction of a family as a result of the war makes it seem not worth it. As one character, Seargant Burke points out, the country got caught up in the troubles so fast, they never stopped to think and try to stop. The war eventually takes a back seat to the boy growing up. It goes from a story about a family to a book about the war and its effects on the community, eventually combining both aspects. In my opinion, this book deals with very serious issues, and by putting them through the eyes of a child growing up, it is a thoughtful and in many cases humorous. However, sometimes I found that the referenece to Irish culture and Ireland itself were confusing. The book is wonderful, as heartbreak and humour are mixed in an effective way, but it requires concentration at all times, so is not "easy reading". The rewards far outway the cost of the extra effort. Ben Shackleford.
5 people found this helpful
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on 29 March 2010
The book started off OK, but there was very little of the light-hearted side of life. I found it very depressing and struggled to finish it.
2 people found this helpful
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on 24 October 2001
According to my lecturer, this is a Bildungsroman - a novel that paints a picture of the protagonist's development. Well, lecturers can call it whatever they want, I'll just call it a must-read. I'm someone who has little interest in Irish affairs, less interest in Irish history and even less interest in the IRA. However, this novel features all three, and I could hardly recommend it more.
It starts slowly, shortly after the war, in which we get brief glimpses of the unnamed narrator's world, stooped in the innocence and naivety of youth. In fact, it carries on much like this for about a third of the book, but whilst in the hands of lesser writers it would be a laborious struggle, this third flies by. Deane knows how to touch our hearts but also engage and intrigue our minds.
A mystery slowly unfolds throughout the book, full of secrets, lies, betrayals and family myths. But this is not melodrama, though it would be difficult to describe it further without making it sound like an episode of Eastenders. Deane's story gripped me, and I could easily drown in his beautiful, lucid prose.
If only more university set texts could be like this...
11 people found this helpful
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on 1 March 2001
Reading in the Dark might merely have been one more "miserable Irish childhood" story, sandwiched between Angela's Ashes and Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, and dismissed. Seamus Deane's unnamed boy author -- nameless, it seems, because his world can't be bothered to notice him -- fits squarely between Frank McCourt and Paddy Clarke in era and in social class. He does not suffer Frank's horrific poverty, nor does he own the books that he reads, as Paddy does. The boy's life in a large working-class Catholic family, with its minimal adult supervision, at least one parent who cannot cope, cruel priests for teachers, and the necessary string of funerals, initially seems to be heading down the literary path to deja-vu.
Seamus Deane, born in Derry, Northern Ireland in 1940, and now a professor at the University of Notre Dame, rescues his first novel from this downward spiral with his ability to transform stereotypical storylines into shattering new tales. Deane masterfully subverts the IRA theme of glory and honour; of fighting and dying for Ireland. He gives us the story of the narrator's Uncle Eddie, introduced as an IRA hero who either escaped from or was killed in a shoot-out with Protestant policemen, but who has not been seen or heard from since.
Deane plays with this contrived, glorious IRA getaway story, tempting the reader to take the anecdote at face value, to romanticize Eddie as a hero. He then inserts a twist -- we learn that Eddie does not have a hero's reputation outside of his family, but is seen as a police informer, a "stooly," by the Catholic community. This reputation stains Eddie's entire family, including the nephew that he never met. The boy is ostracized by his community when, about to be beaten by a gang of boys, he throws a stone at a passing police car in an attempt to escape.
"Once and informer, always an informer," the Protestant policemen sneer.
"F----- stooly," shout his friends.
"Is there something amiss with you?" his father asks.
Deane's layered treatment of conflict is gripping. Hiding beneath each layer -- political, religious, familial, and parent-child -- is a secret, founded partly in myth, partly in history, and considered sacred by the novel's adults. Deane turns the centrality of myth and history in Irish society from a charming tale, as it is most often seen, to a source of great turmoil for a young boy.
The narrator, skeptical of the myths that he is bombarded with, and determined to uncover the truth about his family and world, asks questions in a society in which blind faith is required. This throws him and, to an extent, the reader into conflict with everyone around him. The novel's structure, a series of snapshots of events in the boy's life, puts the reader and the boy on even ground in their quest for the truth. Both are privy to the same limited sources of information, both are told the same stories, and both must piece these tidbits together to make sense of the novel's new Ireland.
7 people found this helpful
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on 16 August 2010
this was a very moving book, it reminded me of Angelas Ashes in its content. The individual portraits of family are so real that it must be autobiographical! Harrowing in places but poetic in style rather like a Saemus Heaney poem.A good example of modern irish fiction.
3 people found this helpful
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on 4 January 2012
Reading In The Dark is a first person account of an extraordinary childhood. On the surface, the family seems to be stable enough. They are Catholics and the novel's narrator is about half way along his parents' progeny. Nothing special there...

They are not rich, and apparently not poor. They get by. The lad explores the neighbourhood, makes friends, starts school. Eventually he proves to be quite academic and he clearly goes from personal success to further personal success.

But all the time there's something in the past that labels him. There are people who call him strange names, accuse him of things he hasn't done. He does not understand, but feels the consequences. Life can be complicated when you're born to a Catholic family in Northern Ireland.

The boy grows up in the 1950s and 1960s. Via short, dated chapters, arranged chronologically and starting in February 1945, we able to build and perhaps experience the lad's world. We share the boy's new experience, feel the changes in his life and body as he does. But there is always something unsaid, intangible, but undoubtedly real and of consequence. Everyone seems to know something, but he has little idea what it all means.

Mother and father remain reticent. Relatives and acquaintances allude to Eddie, the boy's uncle, who is not around any more. Clearly Eddie died in strange circumstances. But in the Northern Ireland of the 1950s, you have to be careful what you say, when you speak and whom you mix with. Just being seen talking to Sergeant Burke, the policeman, can result in your being labelled a traitor, a collaborator, or worse.

The boy's relationship with the Church and its clergy is both fascinating and surreal. There are moments of humour, times of fear, often juxtaposed. There's a maths teacher whose class rules are so complex that any response seems punishable. Serves them right... It seems that whatever contribution an individual might make has the potential to render that person in need of strokes, but the ground rules demand that no-one may opt out.

It's the same in the wider society. When you're a Catholic in Northern Ireland - and perhaps if you are not! - there are no fences you can sit on. Whatever you do it will be wrong. There are enemies on both sides of every fence, so wherever you climb down, beware. Tread carefully, know your place, stay on your guard. But what if, like our young lad, you don't know what to beware of?

Slowly, however, the real truth behind Uncle Eddie's fate emerges. It's only then that the growing boy, and indeed the reader, realises just how complicated - and vindictive - life can be.

Reading In The Dark is a highly poetic novel. The scenes are vivid, beautifully portrayed. They are short, but each adds its own new detail to the bigger story of how a family has learned to cope with its own chequered past. Those who don't know the mistakes of history are perhaps doomed to repeat them. Those misled by untruth are not necessarily liars when they restate it. But complicating the past probably confuses the present and disturbs the future. Seamus Deane's novel, Reading In The Dark, is a vivid and moving portrait of a family troubled by a past it dare not admit.
4 people found this helpful
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on 1 February 1999
This book is a moving, funny and occasionally strange view of irish life in the 50's. It is wonderfully inocent. Through the eyes of a child it enables a view of a world which is dark and angry, without ever being either. I enjoyed this book,and happily recommend it
3 people found this helpful
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