Kerri ní Dochartaigh memoir Thin Places is the first book that I ever bought twice. I don’t Kindle much these days. I need the tactile feel of a book and pages easily turned back as well as forward. I Kindled Thin Places but it was so good that I had to have the book! I never read books twice. There isn’t the time but Thin Places is different.
I was utterly captivated by the the first paragraphs of the prologue, where her soul is environmentally heightened to the wonder of a moth as she walks the edges of the Inishowen Peninsula where the wild Atlantic meets Lough Foyle. The scene is beautiful, as are the prose. This is gorgeously written.
Though this sharp awareness of environment continues throughout do not think for one moment that Thin Places is a light and pretty read. As well as the beautiful terrain of the north west and later the middle of Ireland, and other places scattered across Scotland and England, Kerri ní Dochartaigh is writing about the inner terrain of trauma and the Troubles.
Thin Places is equally haunting as it is captivating. It is as harrowing a read in equal measure to the beautiful. Kerri experienced being burned out of one Derry/Doire/Londonderry housing estates because she wasn’t the right religion and then having to leave the other for the same reasons. She was from a mixed marriage! A late teens idyllic space in Ballykelly is cut short by the murder of her boyfriend.
Thin Places is the long scarred and scared story of how Kerri ran away from these events. It is a story of a lost soul who somehow eventually finds redemption. She returns to eyeball the festering trauma and finds herself in an Ireland whose peace project has been thrown again by Brexit. Kerri struggles but seeks out Thin Places of spaces and creation and her new love for the Irish language and eventually romantic love that helps her find her self.
Thin Places is no tome but it has so much going on that it is difficult to do it justice. It is a deep soul trawler eeking out life wisdom from the darkness and whatever flickers of light. Like Colum McCann’s Apeirogon there’s a lot of threads weaving the brilliance.
The Twelfth chapter of the book is entitled Hollowing, Hallowing. For me these two words are the crux of the entire piece.
Kerri writes: “To hollow out is to remove the inside of something: to make an empty space in the middle of something else. Sometime there is space inside us but no matter how we want it, nothing grows there.”
And then: “When we hallow a place, we bless it and we make it holy. We sanctify and honour it; we consecrate and hold it as sacred. We keep its ways and we hold them close. We listen to the place and feel its reverberation in our bones.”
I am writing this review as I also write my Resurrection Sunday sermon. They are blending and blurring! Deep in the dark tomb on the side of a hill in Jerusalem all the badness lies. It needs hollowed out to bring the possibility of a new beginning. In the hallowed ground of resurrection where Jesus says “Mary” and Mary realises. The new life starts here.
In the various threads of Thin Places Kerri ní Dochartaigh touches on religion and at time the Christian faith. I think she would understand somehow my use of it on Easter Sunday.
Now back to the Prologue…