Another book from another country, though not in the language of that country: I bought The Queen of Dirt Island by Donal Ryan at the San Francisco Book Company, an English language bookstore in Paris.
The Queen of Dirt Island focuses on one family of women, starting with the birth of Saoirse. Her mother got pregnant out of wedlock, for which she is spurned by her family, even though she married the father — who was killed the day of Saoirse’s birth. His mother moves in, and the story of these women go from there, as told in short bites which each “chapter” between a page and a half to two pages long.
My takeaway was much like that of The Guest by Emma Cline: I didn’t get why I was reading about this family. I didn’t find myself caring about them (either liking them or not, because a novel can certainly be about not liking the characters). Their story wasn’t telling or related a bigger one than “being a woman is hard,” but one told by a man. I also didn’t like how he wrote one of the few women in this story who did not have children, referring to her as “this woman and her barren attenuated life” (and worse, though I’m not going to spoil the plot).
In her review in The New York Times, Amy Bloom wrote “If language — lyric, lovely and funny, steeped in County Tipperary — and women (men come and go, rarely center a chapter and are often useless, sometimes cruel) are of no interest to you, ‘The Queen of Dirt Island’ is not your next read.” I didn’t see the same lyricism in his words as she did. I was so disinterested that I didn’t even read it on the flight home, but finished then book when I was back and struggling with jet lag, and walked around my house reading it in an attempt to stay awake.
Ah well. I’m glad I stopped at that bookstore though, and browsed looking at used English language books from around the world. I did stop at Shakespeare and Company, but there was a line to get in. This was a perfectly fine alternative.
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