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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Really impressed with Seamus Deane's only novel, Reading in the Dark

I am really impressed (half-way through) w/ Seamus Deane's novel from 1996 - apparently his one and only novel - Reading in the Dark. Of course some of our greatest memoir-novels are long, multi-volume publications in fact, but among short or single-volume memoir-fiction this work represents all that a memoir-novel can and should be: concise, evocative, dramatic, informative. Not to beat a dead horse, but comparing this novel with the novel we just struggled through in book group, Testing the Current, you can easily see what works and what does not: we don't need to know every detail of every event in the writer's life; the detail selected must be sharp and telling. The narrator or protagonist may of course be young and innocent and not able to comprehend some of his own observations of family, cultural, and political life - but the writer, whether her or she is doing a first- or third-person narration, needs to make something of the innocent observations of his or her protagonist. For example, as this novel develops the narrator's childhood self is vaguely aware that his family was involved in some IRA activities, that his uncle Eddie had to leave Ireland under mysterious circumstances. Fine, but you can't just leave that fact hanging out there in the void. Deane builds on the naivete and innocence of his younger self: in one key episode (the novel is made up of short, essay-like sections, each w/ a title and date) a group of neighborhood toughs threaten to beat up the young protagonist; he has only a vague idea why - that is, others in the community suspect he and his family informed the police about a cache of IRA weapons. To get out of this jam, the young boy throws a rock at a passing police car. The car stops, the threatening toughs take off, and the police take the boy home. But that's not so good, as all the neighbors see the young boy being escorted home by the police. The father reacts in a totally unexpected way - slugging the young boy and yelling at him that he should have taken the beating from the toughs rather than squirm his way out of it by seeking rescue from the police. So what we see from this is the young boy developing a sense of the conflicts in his family and in his life, arranging in his mind a value set and set of expectations - but all done through dramatic action and concise recollection. Lest you think, however, that the entire novel is made up of politics, there are some hilarious chapters, in particular Maths Lessons (sic) that had me laugh out loud, a rare response. And in some others the young boy hears from others strange tales and legends, in particular a story of ghosts and possession that his aunt narrates that is nearly as powerful and weird as Turning of the Screw (and about 1/20th the length).

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