- Fizzy Thoughts: Reading in the Dark

Reading in the Dark

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Reading in the Dark
Seamus Deane
1997
224 pages

From the Random House website:

Reading in the Dark's unnamed narrator looks back on his childhood and adolescence in the 1940s and 50s in the Bogside neighborhood of Derry, a troubled town on the border of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Members of the boy's family have been involved in the IRA, whose guerrilla war for Irish independence continued in the North when the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921 left six northern counties in the control of Great Britain. In towns like Derry, the IRA continued to find willing recruits among the Catholic minority, which faced discrimination in both employment and housing and was routinely harassed by the police.

Ireland's history of political violence is the ostensible cause of a web of betrayals that is the family secret--a secret that the narrator feels compelled to unearth. The older brother of the boy's father, his uncle Eddie, has disappeared on the night of an IRA shootout with British forces in a local distillery in November 1922. To the family's great shame, Eddie is widely believed to have been an informer, that perennial bad seed in Ireland's history of failed uprisings, but no one knows for sure what happened to him. The mystery only deepens when, on his deathbed, the boy's grandfather tells the boy's mother something about Eddie that pitches her into a vortex of grief and guilt--something that she refuses to divulge.

Another of the boy's uncles, Tony McIlhenny, has disappeared as well, suddenly leaving his pregnant wife, and is rumored to be living in Chicago. The boy's mother knows something about Tony's fate too. She shares this knowledge with a half-mad local character called Crazy Joe but keeps it from her husband, her son, and her sister, who was abandoned by McIlhenny.

Once the boy begins to piece together the fragments of his family's tortured history, he cannot leave it alone--he pursues the truth until it turns his mother against him and ultimately drives him away from home, despite his painful love for his parents. This is the story of a family laboring under a crushing past, suffering from its own guilty secrets--and of a boy who refuses to adhere to the family's unspoken pact of silence. Told in a poetic language that is dense with the felt immediacy of daily life, it is a coming-of-age story that is searing and unforgettable.

So there you have it...a description so long you no longer need to read the book. :-)

I enjoyed reading the book, although it was a little puzzling at times. Told in a linear fashion, it still skips months and years, so it can be a bit jarring at times, even if the year was generously provided at the beginning of each chapter. And somehow, by the end of the book, the torturous secret wasn't so dramatic. It just was.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

5 comment(s):

Beth F said...

Nice! I love an Irish setting, so I'll have to stick this on the ol' wish list.

Ti said...

It all sounds very mysterious... LOL. Did you skip to the end first?

Joanne said...

Geeze this sounds really interesting, but hard to believe this story fit in a book of only 225 pages.

On a slightly related note: have you ever watched the movie 'In The Name Of The Father'? Excellent movie based on the true story of a group wrongly accused of IRA bombings.

bermudaonion said...

This sounds like it was a little bit of a disappointment. I think I'll skip it.

Gert-Jan said...

This is honestly one of the best English books I've ever read. It's amazing how a book on this theme can be this exciting. The fact that it's a retrospective first-person narrative makes all the more intriguing, knowing that the protagonist will eventually find out what he knows as a narrator.

Brilliant!

In a real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish. ~S.I. Hayakawa

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
~St. Augustine

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.
~Mark Twain

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