Voices from a Far Country
Hauntingly beautiful in its use of language and its evocation of the far country of childhood, this is an exceptional and boldly original first novel. Conor O'Donnell's world, the world he will "make" from the "clink and chatter" of encircling adults, is that of a small boy being reared in a south Donegal kitchen bar in the 1940s. By using a kaleidoscope of shifting impressions of singing and drinking, of rambling arguments about the war, of the electrifying rows between Conor's mismatched parents, the author reintroduces us to the emotional and imaginative life that children live, inside and beyond the world of mere facts.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
With undeniable shadings of Roddy Doyle's Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, this Irish first novel offers certain charms in the end, despite a sluggish beginning. Strung together by a series of short anecdotes, some significant, others incidental, the narrative of eight-year-old Conor in his small village during and after WW II provides a meticulous view of the expansive inner life and narrow outer life of rural Ireland. Though slow to begin, the novel captivates attention with the ongoing marital woes of Conor's parents, Jamie and Cassy; Conor's own unrequited love for the haughty Aisling; the rise in fortunes of Corner Jim; and the local bar talk of Nazi Germany's "Go Balls and the Foorer." The usual parade of peripheral characters wanders in and out of the story, and though the assortment of rascals and saints is a bit old hat, it nevertheless fills out the representation of an Ireland out of time: There are bully boys and a drunken priest, Old Cairbre and his faithful donkey, and a tyrannical teacher who rounds out the cast as Conor's life advances in a zig-zag line. The family owning the local kitchen bar offers Conor plenty of opportunity to view adult life, and perhaps the one flaw of the novel is that he doesn't seem in the slightest questioning of what he sees, more a detached observer than a participant. Though all the exterior elements of a growing boy are included, the usual games and humiliations, the story lacks the skewed insights and child's perspective that made Doyle's exploration of the same subject a Booker-winning effort. An enjoyable debut, though without the observations and originality of more commanding works of the genre. (Kirkus Reviews)