It’s been a long time since I’ve reread chunks of a book as I went along, for the poetry of it all. To savour that paragraph again. To wonder at the skill which makes it all seem natural. To admire the beauty of images. To pause in the moment.

There are many glorious moments in Colum McCann’s Transatlantic. Stories of individuals and a family. Stories of flight and landing, and what happens after.

McCann explores issues through stories of  people we’ve heard of-  airmen Alcock and Brown, abolitionist Fredrick Douglass and (man of enormous patience) George Mitchell– and the generations of another family- Lily, Emily, Lottie and Hannah.

I don’t like flying with 21st century safety and comfort; McCann’s version of the first transatlantic flight (in 1919) is practically heart stopping. What those men did, with their compasses, goggles and polished shoes was astonishing.

Douglass visits Ireland in 1845 and is feted by society, wined and dined. A former slave, a powerful speaker, he experiences no racism. But he witnesses poverty unlike he’d ever seen. He hears whispers of famine, yet sees boats laden with food.

George Mitchell is now 80. He’s a regular human being, with faults and flaws. He’s won all the prizes and medals, but if there is a heaven, I’d to think there’s a special spot reserved for McCann’s version of him.

But this is not the story of a life.
It is the story of lives, knit together,
overlapping in succession, rising
again from grave after grave.
Wendell Berry, from 'Rising', quoted by Colum McCann in TransAtlantic

Each of these men interacted with Lily Duggan or her descendants Emily, Lottie or Hannah. We know Lily and Lottie best- the servant girl who left Ireland, and the young woman who made it her home.

The last part of the novel focusses on Lottie’s daughter Hannah, elderly now, and making her way through not unexpected challenges. And the world moves on.

Believable characters weave their way through historical events. Real, imperfect people make history happen. Little details (ham sandwiches, wet hair) ground this book, while the writing soars.

Can you tell I loved it?

sleepless in surprise

“I’m about to start a new book”

“Hmm” (translated as “Why are you telling me this?”)

“It’s by- listen, you do know this name- John Gordon Sinclair.”

So before I got to start reading we shared a few moments talking about Sinclair, the film Gregory’s Girl and oh, yes, Clare Grogan. A clip from the film was featured in the Olympics opening ceremony, and we had “aaahed” then also.

Who of my age from the British Isles doesn’t have a soft spot for John Gordon Sinclair? It’s as if we think he is actually gormless Gregory, and we want to will him on to good things. Yes, it seems I paid money to cheer on a fictional character from 1981.

It’s a crime novel. That’s good; I read lots of crime. I hope it’s not too bad.


Oh. Oh dear. It opens in Newry. It’s going to be about “The Troubles”. That’s not promising. It could be patronising/ glorifying violence or just 50 shades of wrong.

Apart from the necessities of life- sleeping, eating and watching Borgen– I didn’t put the book down. It was I who was wrong. There are a few clunky moments, but I was hooked.

It has assassins, spies, American gangsters, pretty girls, humour, cartoon violence, IRA men, underground warrens, army and policemen. Not for the first time, I considered what a gift the real life Freddie Scappaticci has been to fiction. Brotherhood and forgiveness- there’s a Butch and Sundance vibe going on. It has some of the most gross violence I’ve read. That was a surprise. Psychopathic violence to chill your bones. Keep me awake sort of violence.

Sinclair is working on a sort of follow up, and I’m hoping that some of the women (grieving mother, stoic widow, reluctantly caught up in the madness local girl, quite enjoying being caught up in the madness American barmaid), or Niamh, the child, get starring roles in that. Seventy Times Seven is about the legacy of violence in a society and a family; I’m curious about how Niamh turns out.

I’ll read it, without the Gregory background, without worrying about any galmourising of our patheic history. I’ll read it because Seventy Times Seven was a powerful read.

the civilised bookclub

We’re a group of eight women on our ways through life. The age range is about 25 years. There are children and grandchildren, pets and peeves. Every month or so we gather together.

There may be flowers. There will be food (sometimes expertly catered by one of us, sometimes expertly heated up). There will be drinks.

Chat will be about families, holidays, fundraising, gossip, bereavements, health, work woes, shoes, event planning, handbags, gladrags, and caravans. Life’s bothers and boons. Eventually we’ll get to the book.

Our most recent subject was Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility. We did not all choose this book because we liked the cover. Honestly. (Although you never know with the graphic designer in the group).

Katy tells us the story of her 1938, from her 1966 perspective. This was the year that everything changed for her; the decisions she made that year shaped her whole life. There was money and opportunity, friendship, glamour and hard work. Men to love and lose. One man whose impact lingered, despite his very different choices. There are late nights in jazz bars, shared rooms and clothing, some mysteries. Not all is as it seems.

This is more than ‘immigrant girl makes good by falling in with the right people’. It’s not just about the style and the parties. It’s a story of reinvention, defying expectations and, somehow, finding one’s niche.

Ending up with friends, fun and support…

the obituarist

People! We know this guy! Paul A. Waters (I don’t know, but I’m thinking Anthony or Aloysius- feel free to add suggestions below) is our bloggy buddy Blackwatertown. I enjoy his writing and his company, and am not so secretly chuffed that he referred to me as a ‘health campaigner’ on twitter. ‘Health campaigner’ sounds more impressive than ‘mouthy lay-about’, don’t you think?

The Obituarist is full of derring- do, tall tales and an underlying tension. Straight backed army chaps with twirly moustaches, double barrelled surnames and stiff upper lips contrast with the up and coming journalist. There’s drink, and its effects.  There’s jealously, a friendship of sorts, and the wondering- who is going to pull a fast one? It’s crime, black humour, and old fashioned good fun. Conveniently for those of us with a Kindle, it can now be downloaded from amazon and other ebook retailers.

Buy. Read. Enjoy.