Bishop’s Delight |Patrick McGinley delivers dark humour

Bishop’s Delight by Patrick McGinley is a delightful and deceptively easy read. On the surface it’s the story of a missing Taoiseach and two journalists determined to find out what happened to him.

In this case, the Taoiseach is Jim Maguire — a foundling child adopted by a political family who grows up to become the Irish prime minister. Maguire is a francophile. His heroes include General de Gaulle and Montaigne, the French philosopher, statesman and author renowned for his ability to blend intellectual knowledge and personal storytelling. An outsider, a diarist, and a man with complicated private life, Maguire’s political life has exposed him to potential security risks but it’s his personal life that is of most interest to the journalists.

Woody and Sweetman are rivals.  Sweetman is a sensationalist whereas Woody writes for posterity. Each is writing a biography of Maguire with Woody choosing as his model Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians.

Strachey along with Montaigne and La Rochefoucauld are among a wide cast of literary and philosophical personalities referenced throughout Bishop’s Delight adding insight and entertainment for the reader.

For the most part, the story is told from Woody’s point of view. As he and Sweetman investigate the disappearance, Maguire’s private life increasingly impacts on Woody’s turbulent love life. And one of Maguire’s relationships holds the key to the mysterious Bishop’s Delight.

Love and marriage are strong themes in Bishop’s Delight alongside politics, philosophy and writing. Literary references abound in this story which, rich in dark humour, is an entertaining and fun read.

An excellent choice for book clubs, Bishop’s Delight is also a novel to share with the philosophers and literary lovers in your life.

Bishop’s Delight by Patrick McGinley is published by New Island Books. 978-1-84840-491-5.

[Disclosure: An ARC was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review].

Sour by Alan Walsh | Debut novel set in a mythical Irish landscape

Sour by Alan Walsh is a modern retelling of the myth of Deirdre of the Sorrows. And, since a bit of escapism doesn’t go astray every now and then, when I got the opportunity to review it, I thought, ‘why not?’

Sour is a funny and at times dark story. It is set in a mythical Irish landscape populated by strange beasts. There’s a crow that smokes. There’s a goat possessed by a banshee. The humans are pretty strange too.  Essentially it’ a tale of runaway children and the search to find them.

Dee O’Loughlin is ‘a strange unnatural beauty’. She is kept under lock and key by her father. But Dee runs away with brothers Cormac and Declan Mac Neassa.

Mythical creature

The story begins when Conall Donoghue ‘a beetroot-faced, mule of a man’ sets out to find the Declan. Conall is accompanied by a ‘Púca’. The ‘puca’ is a mythical creature that only some of the other characters can see.

Sour is an imaginative fantasy. For the most part, the story is told from the Púca’s point of view. The storytelling is a bit confusing but if  you know the myth of Deirdre of the Sorrows, that helps. If you don’t, there’s a good summary on Alan Walsh’s blog.

[Disclosure: received a free review copy of Sour]

The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright | A Fictional Affair

When I spotted The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright at a book sale recently, it reminded me that I had been meaning to read more of her work. So, I bought the book and settled down to read just under 230 pages about a fictional affair.

The Forgotten Waltz is a curious novel. The story is told from the point of view of Gina Moynihan. Married to Conor, Gina works full time and is middle class. Apart from the spare facts, and that she has a sister, Fiona, and an elderly mother, Gina is a rather vague and shallow character. I wouldn’t say I didn’t like her, but I can’t say that I did. Her saving grace, perhaps, is that she doesn’t seem to like herself much either.

For a novel that is about an affair, the affair itself also seems shallow. Gina tries to convince herself otherwise but there’s somehow a lack of connection between her  and her paramour Sean Vallely.

How were we supposed to stop?

Gina muses at one point, “once we had begun, how were we supposed to stop? This sounds like a simple question, but I still don’t know the answer to it. I mean we had started something that could not be ended, except by happening.”

Perhaps the shallowness is the point, since these are characters of Ireland’s economic boom. The trouble is that their vagueness leaves them struggling to get the reader rooting for them. What saves the day, is neither character nor plot, but the quality of Enright’s writing which, of itself, would encourage me to read her again.

Enright won the Man Booker Prize in 2007 for The Gathering and has since published The Forgotten Waltz (2011) and The Green Road (2015).