Charged with the hidden rhythms and resonances of a fading Gaelic way of life in the West of Ireland, Birdsall's debut novel is intimately told in the form of a journal. When John Davey inherits a remote, ramshackle Connemara cottage, he is the center of attention as the locals follow his efforts to transform it into an artists' retreat. But as he is drawn into the gossip, hearsay, and speculation of his neighbors' lives, he becomes part of a world where "thoughts have no pattern". Ultimately he discovers that nature is of more importance to him than the "blue charm" of evening sunsets and fishing. But in the background the shadows of an older Ireland linger, of "ghost villages" and tinker camps and the emotional undercurrents of an enclosed, threatened community. Birdsall nimbly catches a twilight society poised between a haunted past and an unsteady future.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
In the rolling cadences and quirky dialect of Ireland's west country, a tepid first novel pursues the magic and emotional depths of rural life - though ultimately offers little more than scenery. John Davey, having come from London to claim an inheritance, starts out with intentions of selling his aunt's ramshackle farmhouse and ends up wholly converted to the Connemara way of life. Instead of cashing in and moving on, a growing trend among his country neighbors, John takes the advice of an actor friend and transforms the farm into a retreat for artists. While converting the buildings, he becomes acquainted with his neighbors, odd birds, each of them. There's old Ignatius, master storyteller and, to hear him tell it, acquainted with the fairies himself. Keeping him company are his two middle-aged twin daughters, Mary Anne and Anna Marie, who shuffle about without speaking and carve their names into everything they come across. The local postman doubles as a taxidermist, and Shovels introduces John to "mountain tay" as time is whiled away fishing with young Kierah or chatting with shy Patricia, who dreams of America. Meantime, busy London life fades from memory for John: "When you are out, it's a wonder if things are happening as normal in the busy world, and another thing to wonder if you weren't just a little bit fooled by its business." The blue charm of the title is the indescribable beauty of the dusk sky, which has enchanted John as powerfully as some ancient hex - though, unfortunately, it has little hold on the reader. While the meandering pace and eccentric characters have all the making of a fine, painterly novel, the story's finally overburdened with its own atmosphere, overshadowing any hint of a plot. Not unpromising, but this debut lacks the energy to deliver more than just a surface view of rural life. (Kirkus Reviews)