on 4 May 2011
I wasn't sure at first what to make of this book - Roddy Doyle writing from the point of view of four women, one of them a ghost? However, I went on to devour it in two sittings!
The writing is simple and direct, dealing with the big themes of life - love, loss and death - with humour, and without sugary sentimentality. This book could easily have got mawkish, and it is one of its strengths that all life changes - death, puberty, friends leaving - are dealt with in a very matter of fact way. The humour is subtle, the language fresh and up to date and the characters charming.
This book, although aimed at young teenagers, has a lot for adults to enjoy and take away. If a young person you know is struggling to come to terms with a bereavement, it would be a good book to recommend, but it is much more than an "issue" book.
I am quite a fan of Roddy Doyle's work. Ever since he came to my attention in 1993 when he won the booker prize for 'Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha', I have made a point of seeking out all of his novels. Many people might know him as the author of 'The Commitments', which was part of his Barrytown Trilogy.
Doyle's work has an instant Irish feel about it, born as he was in Dublin. His writing style relies very much on the vocabulary of his characters, using local slang and sometimes coarse language to convey the personalities of the people he writes about.There is always an authenticity to his work, which often deals with the uglier side of society whilst projecting the human side of the people in his novels.
'A Greyhound Of A Girl' is the first of his novels for children that I have read. The style is typical Roddy Doyle, but the language is softened in line with the reader age it is aimed at. I am uncertain of the age group this is written for, but I found it absorbing enough to read as an adult, dealing as it does with dark themes such as death, aging and regret. Yet through it all, there is a tenderness and understanding of unconditional parental love and the eternal impact it can have on each generation.
The main character, Mary, is 12 and struggling to come to terms with the departure of her best friend (she moved house) and the inevital death of her seriously ill Grandmother. When the ghost of her Great-Grandmother appears to her, she comes to realise that change and loss is a part of life, and that it is the everyday things we take for granted that can sometimes matter most.
The narrative moves back and forth through time, each part highlighting one of the 4 main characters and their experience of life. At times funny, and other times moving, I found it to be both sensitive and insightful....and I would certainly recommend it both for older children and adults too.
Well written, with anecdotal descriptions which make the characters warm and likable:
Mary, not far off being a teenager who is feeling bereft after her best friend moves house to another part of Dublin;
Mary's mother Scarlet who talks in exclamation marks, "Even your whispers end in !!!s"
Emer, Mary's grandmother, remembering how her own grandmother used to 'worry the food' at the range and
Tansey, Mary's great-grandmother who full of vibrancy and life succumbs to the flu at the age of 25.
Doyle has a talent for voicing very realistic children's thoughts. He brings the story alive with his descriptions of the farmyard, the broken 'hegg' and the tender relationship between a child and her mother and grandmother.
It was an interesting idea and one that might well appeal to anyone who is missing a loved one. Although the message was that everyone is 'somewhere' and that death itself necessarily 'the end' the book was pleasantly lacking in religion as an explanation.
This short novel by the fine Irish writer Roddy Doyle is written for teens, but I thoroughly enjoyed it on an adult level too...
Mary O'Hara is twelve. She's feisty and rather cheeky - but then her Mum Scarlett was too when she was younger; it's a family trait. Mary's gran, Emer used to be like that too, but she's nearing the end of her life in hospital, it won't be long. Emer never really knew her mother, for Tansey died of the flu when she was only three. One day as Mary is walking home from school, she meets a friendly old lady, who somehow seems familiar. They strike up a conversation, and the old lady is there again the next day. She says her name is Tansey. When Mary tells her Mum this, she's shocked to the bone as the only Tansey she knows is her dead grandmother. Mary introduces them, and finds out that Tansey is indeed the ghost of her late great-grandmother who has come to help her gran in her last days. Together the O'Hara women hatch a plan to help Tansey and Emer meet properly before she dies, and to see what has become of the farm they grew up in.
Considering that death is one of the central themes of this novel, whether it be the impending demise of Emer, the sudden illness of Tansey, or the animals on the farm, there's nothing shocking or unnatural about it at all, it's part of the cycle of life. This allows the book to concentrate almost exclusively on the four women. The few male characters just pass through now and then, rarely stopping to join in the tale, like Mary's teenaged brothers who only appear to eat; Mary finds Dommo and Killer, as Dominic and Kevin now monnicker themselves to be an alien species these days.
Doyle alternates voices between conventional story-telling and chapters narrated by one of the four women, starting with Mary. You can see their family resemblances clearly - not just in the way they look - for the O'Hara women are tall and slim like the greyhounds they kept on the farm, but also their inner strength, and cheeky forthright manners. This allows for some typically humorous conversations between them, which gives a lovely bittersweet edge to this tale; not out and out funny like Doyle's Barrytown Trilogy (in which The Van in particular just cracked me up), but it will make you smile, and that's a good thing for a book about dying written for teenagers to do.
Roddy Doyle was born in Dublin in 1958 and saw his first novel, "The Commitments" published in 1987. It was later adapted for the big screen, a version that saw Star Trek's Colm Meaney and a very young Andrea Corr among the cast. Doyle went on to win the Booker Prize in 1993 with "Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha". While he might be best known for his "grown-up" novels, "A Greyhound of a Girl" is aimed at the children's market.
Mary O'Hara is twelve years old when we first meet her, and is thoroughly miserable. Not only has her best friend, Ava, just moved away but her beloved Granny Emer is dying in hospital. Walking home from school in the rain, she meets a woman who she assumes to have moved into Ava's old house. They have a brief chat, and - strangely - she asks Mary to pass on a message to Emer. When they meet following day, Mary discovers her new neighbour is called Tansey...which, as Scarlett tells her later, was also the name of Emer's mother. As it turns out, it's the ghost of her great-grandmother that Mary has met - and Tansey has come back specifically to see her daughter.
A very easily read book overall, and one (I suspect) that'll provide a bit of comfort to kids going through what Mary's going through. While Mary does play the 'lead' role, Tansey, Emer and Scarlett also get their moment in the spotlight - with Tansey, for me, being the most likeable of the four. The choice of names did have me groaning slightly - having called Mary's mother Scarlett O'Hara, I couldn't believe Doyle avoided using the line "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn". (I wonder if Mary herself was a nod to Mary O'Hara, the famous harpist ?) Anyway, even in spite of that, I'd absolutely recommend the book - I'll be adding to the list of things to buy for a niece's birthday.
Roddy Doyle's children's book, which the blurb says is suitable from ages 10 to adult, deals with some big themes but it's by far from a heavy or tricky story. There's a lot of humour and lightness of touch.
Mary is twelve and her grandmother is in hospital dying. It's a difficult time for Mary and her mother, then Mary meets a sweet old lady who seems very familiar and knows a lot about her grandma. She also seems to disappear in bright light...
We have dying, loss, ghosts and sadness. But also lightness, love and a strong bond across four generations of women.
I was a little stuck to know what age range this story would appeal to as a children's book but it does address these big issues in a subtle and sensitive way.
Having not read any Roddy Doyle for years and struggled with reading the dialogue in his Snapper, The Van, etc series I was a little apprehensive. But the language and dialogue is easy to read whilst the phrasing of the dialogue creates great Irish atmosphere and character.
I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did and I'm struggling to put my finger on what about it didn't quite hit the 5 stars. I think perhaps it's a little too thin in some aspects of the characters and their relationships. They didn't quite come to life for me.
Having said that there are some absolutely beautiful passages and dialogue exchanges. The idea of the story is wonderful and I did enjoy it.
It's one of those books that I found frustrating that it could have delivered a little bit more yet it will be one of those stories which will be with me for a very long time. I can see potential for this to become a classic and a text that will be studied by many students in the future.
I'm very glad I got to read it.
I absolutely loved this book. It's a slim volume so I was expecting to be underawed by a lightweight story but this book is utterly amazing. It's uplifting, incredibly funny but really, really poignant. From the end of chapter 5 I was a bit tearful but by the end of chapter 6 I was cheerfully sobbing my heart out. I read the rest of the book in a haze of happy tears. It's a masterpiece of a tribute to mothers and grandmothers.
The 'greyhound of a girl' is grandmother Emer who is dying in hospital, or rather holding on in hospital. Her mother Tansey shows up to meet great grand-daughter Mary but there is a slight complication as Tansey died when Emer was three.
Despite the sad setting it's a thoroughly positive and entertaining book with lots of ghostly humour. Mary who loves Twilight and her monosyllabic teenage brothers are excellent characters and there are some brilliant flashbacks to Emer and Tanseys earlier lives.
Very highly recommended to anyone who has a grandmother, whether they got to meet them or not i.e absolutely everyone of any age.
Aimed primarily at young adult market, A Greyhound of a Girl is a little book with big values. With poignant simplicity Roddy Doyle covers the themes of love, loss and death in remarkable style, without ever giving way to maudlin sentimentality.
From the beginning of the story the characters take on a life of their own, as with uncanny perception, four generations of women from the same family explore the concept of death and dying. Twelve year old Mary, hovering on the threshold of adolescence, is aware that her beloved granny, Emer is failing. When she visits Emer in hospital, Mary's perception of her own mother Scarlett's sadness is tender and compassionate, with each of them finding comfort in small things. Yet, when a strange woman appears to Mary, and introduces herself as Tansey, Scarlett is able to deduce that this ghostly figure is Emer's mother who died when Emer was a baby. Granting Emer a last poignant journey back to her childhood home, helps Mary, Scarlett, Emer and Tansey discover that long forgotten memories have the power to heal, and that by understanding, we give each other a gift of remembrance.
As the trademark of this talented author is to cover difficult topics with verve and panache, it would be very easy for this book to be dismissed as a light-hearted dance with the angel of death, but with wit and wisdom, A Greyhound of a Girl manages to be both tender and sweet, and sharp and sassy all at the same time. I read the story quickly, it's remarkably easy to read, and yet the overwhelming theme of familial love, once revealed, stays with you for a very long time.
Sometimes, when faced with the dying process we very often fail our children by trying to protect them from, what is, after all a very natural process. Roddy Doyle has presented a very readable, tender and compassionate look at what happens when the health of a beloved grandparent deteriorates, and whilst his narrative allows memories, and stories to compliment, they never overtake the real message that love will survive.
My 9-year-old daughter and I read this together - not out loud but in our heads - and we both laughed at the wonderful funny bits and enjoyed the same things. This is another superb book from Roddy Doyle. There are beautiful descriptions of life on the farm in Ireland mixed in with brilliant dialogue between the four main characters - the daughter, her mother, her granny and the ghost of her great granny. We loved the 3 year old girl carrying a 'hegg' into the farmhouse. I cried at the sad bits but my daughter didn't - she could see they were sad but without getting too upset. I think if the sad bits had made her cry, I might not have felt too good about her reading this book, but Roddy Doyle's writing is so skillful that it is pitched just right for the older child/teenager.
The structure of the book is quite grown-up - moving swiftly to different characters at different times in their lives. There are a few slow bits in the journey at the end - but definitely worth reading. A lovely grown-up girl's book. Mums, read it too. And grannies.
on 14 November 2014
Found some of the ideas deep but comforting. The simple style and storyline avoided the novel from becoming maudlin. A novel that can be read on so many levels. I particularly a liked the deepening relationship between mother and daughter Mary.