Book No 20 (2015) : Secrets of the Lighthouse

Secrets of the Lighthouse 1I love lighthouses. Over the years I’ve read about them, visited and photographed them, stayed in keepers’ cottages and dreamed of owning a light and turning it into a cafe/museum. So, if there is a lighthouse-themed novel, I’m there.

Santa Montefiore’s (she is Tara Palmer-Tomkinson’s sister by the way, never knew that!) ‘Secrets of the Lighthouse‘ attracted me because of the pharology connection. Unfortunately though, it was not enough to sustain my interest in the book.

The lighthouse at Connemara is the scene of the death of the beautiful Caitlin Macausland and is now a burned-out ruin. Ellen Trawton is a Londoner, daughter of a Lady and engaged to a man she doesn’t love. Feeling the need to escape, Ellen heads for Ireland and discovers a whole new family of which she was unaware. She falls in love with Caitlin’s widower and as she starts to feel at home on the Emerald Isle, the reasons for her natural affinity with Ireland are gradually revealed.

Caitlin’s spirit voice is one of the narrator’s of the book as she describes her attempts to contact her children and influence her husband’s love life from her place beyond the grave. That set my teeth on edge to start with – I didn’t warm to the dead narrator in ‘The Lovely Bones‘ and I didn’t here either. Aside from that, the plot is mediocre and the character development quite poor; everyone seemed wooden and stereotypically Irish – broad, dark-haired, Guinness-drinking musical pub-dwellers. I finished the book to find out what happens, but this is not an author I would read again in a rush. For beach-book mental floss, my preference is for Lucinda Riley.

It did set me off on another train of thought though. I wonder how much lighthouse fiction there is, as I can think of quite a few novels….

Book No 17 (2014) : The Spinning Heart

spinning heart I make no secret of the fact that I have fabulous friends. For my birthday, four of my closest book buddies bought me an amazingly thoughtful present – a gift subscription for a local bookshop. Every month, the kind lady at the shop is going to send me a brand new book, chosen by her, taking into account my likes and dislikes etc. So there was a lot of emotional energy invested in my first book, which arrived at the start of April. It was ‘The Spinning Heart’ by Donal Ryan.

As the recession has hit Ireland, the lives of rural inhabitants have been severely affected. The novel tells some of their stories, through 21 separate chapters. Their language is direct; each writer speaks in the first person, straight to the reader. To start with their voices seem dissociated, but as the novella progresses (its only 160 pages long); you begin to understand the connections between the people. Structurally it’s a cleverly composed work. There is no doubt that this is a great book, especially as it’s a debut novel. It has received widespread critical acclaim and rave reviews.

So whilst I am able to acknowledge Ryan’s skill, I did not like the book. Given how much I wanted to like it, I did try really, really hard. It got better towards the middle and the ending, because there are some plot events which I wanted to see irelandconcluded. My main issue was that I couldn’t ‘hear’ the narrators’ voices. The work is largely written in authentic, Irish language: I know very few Irish people with strong accents have never visited the Emerald Isle and have next to no knowledge of its history or customs. Because of this, many of the subtleties and nuances of the vocabulary and narration were completely lost on me, as I struggled to get to grips with the bulk of the work. ‘Bayjasus’ doesn’t pack the same punch if you can’t hear someone shouting it!

I can’t really recommend this book, largely on the basis that I didn’t enjoy it. However, I hesitate to be too harsh as, judging by the reviews and plaudits heaped upon it, I’m in the woeful minority.

Must be a feckin’ eejit.

Film No 21(2014) : Philomena

philomenaUnmarried Philomena is forced into a religious institution when her pregnancy is discovered. Made to work in the laundry, she is only allowed to spend an hour a day with the son she named Anthony. When the child is three years old, he is forcibly taken from her. She has no idea where he has gone; the last she sees of him is his face in the back window of a departing car. Philomena Lee never hears from him again. All she has is a single photograph of her boy.

Years later an out-of-work BBC journalist, Martin Sixsmith, agrees to take up her story, help her find her son. His intention is to publish the story as a ‘human-interest’ feature. The ensuing search for Antony takes Philomena and Martin to the USA, to the White House, and back to Ireland.

It’s a heart-breaking film, but not a sad one. The dialogue between Martin (Steve Coogan) and Philomena (Judi Dench) is funny. She comes from a small Irish town and he has seen the sights of the world. She is unworldly but wise; he is experienced but pig-headed. Together they give and take. Their relationship develops into a poignant one, as Martin begins to care not just about his newspaper feature, but about the real journey.

The most devastating thing about this film is that the story is true. It is a deeply affecting portrayal of an injustice which was committed against many Philomenas. I hope the film helps to raise the profile of their dilemma, so they can sleep more peacefully at night, knowing what happened to their children. You can find out more about the ongoing work and sign a petition to make it easier for mothers and children to find one another, via the Philomena Project.

philomena 2

(Philomena Lee and her daughter, Jane Libberton)