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13 Down, 27 To Go

It wouldn’t be fair to say that my reading rate has slipped lately, it is just that I have been reading other things as well as books. I have been reading blogs and magazines and library books on crafts, interiors and cookery. As a result, unterstandably, my reading of novels has suffered somewhat.

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Of the novels I have read of late, my favourite was Tender by Belinda McKeon. Set in Trinity College Dublin, the university I attended myself, and in the years I was there, this book appealed to me from the first moment I saw it. Just the matter of receiving in in the post from a friend and reading her little note inspired me to write this post and begin the book immediately.

Tender tells the story of a student and a young photographer who meet in Dublin in the late 1990s and instantly fall into an easy, intimate friendship. Over the years the friendship develops, twists and becomes something intense but uneasy.

As with McKeon’s first novel, Solace, Tender is a gripping read written in captivating language. There is detail and there is realistic conversation but there is never the feeling that the story is being padded or drawn out. The characters come to life on the page as do their actions in the story  and the scenes they live through.

McKeon has been called the Anne Taylor of Irish literature. I don’t know how she feels about that comparison, but I can see where it came from. She has a similar method of storytelling, easying the reader in, introducing the characters and their lives through habits, notions and small details. She builds a story not out of the ordinary, but striking, moving and captivating. Both Solace and Tender are books I would highly recommend.

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In order to read Tender, I interrupted my reading of Breathing Lessons – I know, I know, another Anne Tyler. This one wasn’t for me.  Maggie, the main character, is a meddlesome woman who is incapable of minding her own business. She is constantly trying to help people or improve situations with a white lie, a nudge in the right direction, an exaggeration or an omission of information. The whole way through the book she got on my nerves. But I finished the book. Anne Tyler’s storytelling is such that I couldn’t even consider not reading till the end of the story.

The story covers a day in the life of Maggie. Through various incidents throughout this particular day Maggie is reminded of old school friends, of meeting her husband, of her children as they were and as they are now as adults. Her relationship to her husband, her in-laws, her granddaughter, her ex-daughter in law and to strangers are all shown in her actions and thoughts.

The book is a reminder of the millions of parts our lives are made up of and how sometimes we can’t see the wood for the trees. It would not be my favourite of Tyler’s novels, but it certainly was thought-provoking.

Eventually I came back to Bay Of Angels. Several months after beginning the book I forced myself to finish it. It sat on the coffee table for months and months. After finishing Breathing Lessons and having no immediate follow up, I grabbed Bay of Angels and packed it for my weekend read at the hotel on our recent short break.

I am entirely undecided on this novel. The writing is good but obscure. I constantly had the feeling I didn’t get the meaning. The storyline was interesting but not enthralling. I preferred the first half of the book to the second half. I might re-read it another time and get more out of it then. It certainly wouldn’t put me off Anita Brookner. Her style of writing is intelligent and requires concentration. This is the first novel of hers I have read, but it is the 20th she’s written. I’m going to look her up and give her another chance.

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