Ghost Light by Joseph O’Connor

I am a Joseph O’Connor fan. I first fell in love with his books many years ago when I read Desperadoes. If you haven’t read him before, I recommend that as a great starting point. I also loved Star of the Sea. More recently, Redemption Falls was less to my taste because I found the voices difficult to distinguish and the unrelenting misery in the tale hard to bear. In choosing to read Ghost Light I was hoping to get back to more familiar territory and, in a way, I guess I did.

Ghost Light is a kind of love story that centres on an actress, Maire O’Neill and the playwright, John Millington Synge. The title is well chosen because the telling of the tale has a kind of half lit melancholy about it that is reminiscent of a particular time in Ireland. ‘Just a song at twilight, when the lights are low and the glistening shadows softly come and go’.

Again, O’Connor is experimental with voice and the story flips backwards and forwards in time and flips between the USA and Ireland. For me, these techniques got in the way of connecting with the story at first, but as the tale unfolds, you do get drawn in. For me, it’s not O’Connor at his best and I still think, if you’re only going to read one of his novels, I would recommend one of the earlier ones like Desperadoes or Star of the Sea.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer

A book club of sorts in the occupied Channel Islands island of Guernsey during the Second World War is at the heart of this novel. It is an easy and heart-warming read that would be perfect to take on your holidays.

Everyone I know who has read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society has loved it- some have even said they slowed down their reading because they did not want to get to the end of the novel. So I came to it with raised expectations and, as is almost the case when that happens, I was a little let down. Don’t get me wrong: this is a nicely written novel that is easy to read. It uses the device of letters to bring the story of a group of individuals in occupied Guernsey to the central character – writer, Juliet Ashton. It is heart warming, sometimes funny and it tells an interesting tale. But with my previous experience of war literature – albeit first world war – coming from Pat Barker’s excellent Regeneration trilogy, from Sebastian Barry’s A Long Long Way and from Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong – perhaps I expected too much. This is definitely a lighter read. Interestingly, notes at the end of my copy explain that the novel was completed by the author’s niece. I don’t know if that makes a difference but I did think there was a change and that the end of the novel was maybe a little too light. But I am nit picking. Sometimes light is good, sometimes it’s exactly what we need. So if you are thinking about buying this novel, don’t let me put you off. I did find it an enjoyable read and it would be a lovely book to take on holiday.

The Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker

The Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker comprises three novels — Regeneration, The Eye in the Door and The Ghost Road — set during the first world war.

The novels are about the WWI experiences of poets Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and a fictional third character, Billy Prior.

Pat Barker sensitively explores the mental health problems caused by the horrors of war. All three characters in these novels spend time in Craiglockhard, a Military hospital, under the care of a psychiatrist, Dr Rivers. The telling of their stories is human, moving and absolutely compelling. If you have been scared off by the subject matter, or perhaps like me, thought you were not a reader of war fiction, I encourage you to reconsider. This is perhaps the most powerful series I have ever read. I thoroughly recommend it.

If you like Pat Barker’s fiction, you might also like Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks and Sebastian Barry’s novel A Long, Long Way