My summer novels this year were all wonderful stories by crafted writers and by the time I got to the final pages of Jan Carson’s debut I realised how similar they all were in their exposure of human faultlines, foibles, quirks, idiosyncrasies and deformities of heart and soul and various clues to how and where the repairing of soul might occur.
These novels have all dug deep into my own soul and are sure to find their way into sermons and blogs over the next while… so in the order I read them...
JOSEPH O’CONNOR - THE THRILL OF IT ALL
It is so good to have him back in the more contemporary world after a few works set in the 19th and early 20th century. As a pastor who loves rock music I was fascinated by the relationships between the members of The Ships in their rise and fall and how that setting effects people’s interactions. You are constantly asking who inspired this character and that one. O’Connor writes so well and his music references show an impeccable taste!
DONAL RYAN - THE SPINNING HEART
So a friend, Sam Moore, tipped me off to this one. It’s Ryan’s debut and the hype is justified. He takes a vast array of characters, gives them all a chapter and links a story of how the sudden death of the Celtic Tiger threw people’s lives into a heart spin. What most impressed me was Ryan’s insight into the inner feelings of his characters, male or female, rich or poor, victim or criminal. Insightful and original.
GLENN PATTERSON - THE REST JUST FOLLOWS
I love novels where I know the streets and where the references resonate. No one better than Glenn Patterson, a man born the same year as me who sets most of his work in Belfast. This story of growing up starts in 1974 as the three main characters start secondary schools. Perfect. The characters weave their lives and are shaped by the obstacles and opportunities life throws at them. Of course the Northern Ireland Troubles in all their complexities are some of those obstacles and opportunities but the novel, though is never smothered by The Troubles. It is about ordinary lives that go on around them.
HARUKI MURAKAMI - NORWEGIAN WOOD
Found this in a second hand shop in Portugal when I needed a novel to take me out of Ireland for a time. It was named after a Beatles song for goodness sake! Murakami sets this in the late 60s and there is a lot of protest and sex, maybe too much sex. Yet, he asks cosmic questions and this story of a developing maturity in the midst of too many friends taking their own lives is helpful in its study of meaning and the human psyche.
JAN CARSON - MALCOLM ORANGE DISAPPEARS
Back to a Belfast writer but set in the States, mainly in Portland Oregon, Carson again looks at the fault lines of our early years that impact the rest of our lives. Jan’s has a mind awhirl with imaginations and ideas. It verges on madness but underneath she is a woman who is trading the sanity underneath. Put Jan Carson alongside Donal Ryan as an Irish writer to watch... read the full review of Malcolm Orange Disappears here...