2019-2020 Bookclub

Sept. 2019

Colum McCann


Seven book club members attended this meeting which was host by Liam.


Though the discussion, like the book, covered many topics, the one that stood out was the treatment of Northern Ireland, possibly because it made some of us feel so old to realise that the Belfast Good Friday agreement now fits into a historical novel although we remember it well, and possibly because it has been in the news again because of Brexit and the backstop/customs border arrangements.  


Some of the non-Irish members felt they were a little at a disadvantage as there were many references that went over their heads. Instead of helping them get to know Ireland (the aim of the Ambassadors’ list where we got the idea for reading this book from), it made them aware of how little they knew about the country, which for Axelle spoilt the pleasure of reading the book. Poppy on the other hand, for whom as the youngest member of the group it really was history, didn’t find it bothered her at all.  

Focusing as it does on three momentous moments in Irish history, it was probably to be expected that we all agreed that events were much more important than the characters, and with perhaps the exception of Lillie, the Dublin maid who leaves for America and develops into a strong and independent woman, the fictional characters were not particularly well drawn enough to elicit any sort of emotion or attachment from the reader. Allison was interested enough to research the real historical characters to get to know them better, but one of the fictional characters Hannah was found to be a disappointment, and even downright annoying for Elena. New member Nicole made the very valid observation that the female characters existed only in the private sphere, whereas the men were all very much public heroes, a reflection of the times he was writing about or an oversight by the author? Poppy however pointed out that she was impressed by how a male author managed to write believable female characters. Nicole found the teenage son a little too perfect to be true though.  

 It was generally agreed that although the various strands of the book may have been interesting (except the NI part for Mary) the links were tenuous, even preposterous. While generally it was agreed that the writing was good, the overuse of a staccato style of three and four-word verbless sentences in the first chapters was irritating.  

As the first Saturday sitting of the Westminster parliament was happening as we were speaking and as we all knew that the meaningful vote could turn out to be meaningless, the talk veered off onto the topic of Brexit before we got back to the book to vote. Votes were surprisingly similar, the range only being between 6 and 7 – it actually felt like watching an ice-skating championship 6/6.5/6/7/6.25/6.5/6 to give an overall score of 6.28/10.