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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 5 June 2012
Belinda McKeon's debut novel 'Solace' is set in present day Ireland, and is essentially a love story; however, at its heart, this novel focuses on the emotional ties between parents and their children. Mark Casey, a post-graduate student at Trinity College, Dublin, is working towards his doctorate and writing a dissertation on the writer Maria Edgeworth, a nineteenth century author who lived near to Mark's family home at Longford, where his father, Tom, has a small farm. Tom, who has only ever wanted to farm, outwardly accepts the fact that Mark needs to study for his doctorate, but he also feels strongly that between his periods of academic work, Mark should spend as much time as he can back at home helping him on the farm. In consequence, Mark finds himself torn between feelings of guilt, responsibility and duty to his father and the need to assert his independence and to live his own life.

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.

4 Stars.
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on 25 September 2017
Book started well and story line was acceptable but then it just ended very abruptly. Disappointed with this book as had been recommended.
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on 22 October 2013
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 10 April 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
You know right from the outset that some tragic event has happened, although it takes some while for the nature of the event to become clear. To that extent I wanted to continue reading to find out more. On the other hand I found the first fifty or so pages of this novel very hard going. The writing style began to grate very early on - endless description, much of it banal and irrelevant, description heaped upon description. I just wanted to give it a shove and move on. There is certainly an authentic Irish voice here (I have Irish antecedents who lived not far from the location of the farm, and the turns of phrase were very familiar) but at times I felt this, too, was overdone. The themes revolve around town v country and inter-generational misunderstandings.

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.
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on 11 September 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This isn't a book to choose if you want pace and plot: it's a slow, gentle meditation, almost, on those classic literary themes: the tension between father and son, between the older generation and the younger, between the country and city, between family and individual, between dependence and autonomy.

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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on 2 May 2012
This a lovely book - it gently pulls the reader into a very familiar scenario for anyone reared in late 20th Century Ireland. 'Old traditional' ways give way. Expectations of parents are realised through the greatly desired achievement of their young. Losing them to the city, to new ways of living distancing them from home. The tension between the ageing parents and the duty aware son is excellently portrayed with insight and is very well phrased. Beautiful conversations captured in Longford idioms, ascerbic astute comments from the village busy body..... just like home. Really well paced - it will haunt you gently for some time!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 7 May 2014
Belinda McKeon's debut novel seems to be attempting to tackle several big themes at once: the conflict in Ireland between the old-fashioned rural life and the smart metropolis of Dublin, the difficulty of tackling graduate academic work and keeping motivated, the difficulties of starting out in the legal profession, the unpredictability of love, the dramas of unplanned pregnancy and the strange processes of grief. Mark, a graduate student in English at Trinity Dublin, is struggling to complete a PhD on Maria Edgeworth (to whom he is drawn because she lived near his parents' farm) but lacks motivation, and suffers from pressure from his father Tom to come back and help him with the family farm - as Tom has always dreamed he would. Mark is further distracted when he meets Joanne Lynch, a beautiful trainee lawyer, and falls immediately in love. Although Joanne has always seen herself as a career girl first and foremost, she finds herself having a passionate affair with Mark - which all too soon leads to an unplanned pregnancy (Joanne is, apparently, 'too busy to get back on the pill'). Soon, Mark and Joanne are tackling vast responsibilities - made more complicated by the fact that Joanne is the daughter of an unpleasant lawyer who incurred the hatred of Mark's father Tom. But they seem to be coping - until a sudden, unexpected event changes the family's life for ever...

McKeon writes beautifully about Tom's love of the land, and the difference between wealthy pre-Recession Dublin and the simple country life led by Tom and his wife Maura, and about the ties Mark feels to the family farm. Some of the descriptions of Joanne bonding with her baby daughter are lovely (though I think McKeon underestimates the exhausting side of motherhood) and she's also observant about the strange ways that we can behave while grieving, either distracting ourselves from our misery or giving way to odd behaviour patterns such as compulsive spending. However, I felt the novel suffered from two major problems. The first was that Mark (and to a lesser degree to begin with) Joanne were quite dull, and not particularly pleasant characters. I got tired quite quickly of reading about Mark's self-absorption and pleasureless boozing and drug-taking, and Joanne's sense of purposelessness - and Mark definitely seemed to be wasting his grant money on a doctorate he wasn't enjoying! The characters' lethargy made them hard to really like in the early stages of the book (though I grew fond of Joanne reading about her legal work), and difficult to get involved with. However, McKeon seemed to care about both of them more as the novel went on, which helped. The other problem I had with the book was more substantial - there were simply too many stories going on. The novel went in too many directions at once - at one point it seemed to be a satire on lacklustre graduate students in academe, then it became a legal drama, then a story about young motherhood, then an account of how a family feud might threaten the young lovers - and the event that happened two thirds of the way through changed the focus of the story altogether, leading to a bleak, and rather leisurely Part II that (compared to the hectic pace of Part I) dragged a little. I wasn't entirely sure it was a good idea to have the final section so obsessively focussed on Mark and Tom either, particularly towards the end - which almost tailed off, as though McKeon wasn't sure how to conclude the narrative. So, while there was a lot of beautiful writing on the way, I felt pulled in too many directions and led down too many pathways that ultimately went nowhere (the big family secret, for example, that we are told on the back blurb threatens the young couple, never really became a major part of the plot, and seemed forgotten about very fast). McKeon is an impressive writer, but I think she may have been too ambitious with this book. Had she concentrated on only a couple of plotlines the book might have felt a more coherent whole. Nevertheless, there was a lot I enjoyed about it, despite its growing bleakness, and I'll definitely look out for more of this author's work.
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on 24 March 2013
The farming angle in the first chapter caught my interest so I decided to follow the story. I found myself wanting to know how come the mother was no longer there and that's what kept me reading. There is some unnecessary length to the story telling. Having a farming background myself, I found the farming inaccuracies annoyed me a bit, but that will not affect the majority of readers. In the end, the book ended with a bit of a whimper - it just faded out, hence my marking of three rather than four stars.
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VINE VOICEon 16 September 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Solace is one of the best books I've read this year. It's written very beautifully, and draws you in from beginning to end. The characters are superbly drawn and utterly believable. The ground covered may not be new - relationships between parents and chidren, between siblings and between partners plus the effect of tragedy on these relationships - but I can't think of a book which has done it better. Although set mainly in Ireland, apart from the occasional references to Euro's it apply to any rural area in England. Also, it is equally suitable for men and women. Perhaps it could encourage readers to look at their families and understand them better while there is time to do so.
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on 23 December 2011
Tightly written - she has a great eye for the small human interactions that carry emotional significance.
This novel is both beautifully paced and completely unsentimental - which is a great achievement given the content. Wonderful.
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