Friday, 7 August 2009

Civil & Strange by Cláir Ní Aonghusa

Penguin Ireland

Civil and strange? What’s that mean?
It’s a Munster saying, meaning you should be civil with your neighbours, but keep a distance so the gossips don’t ate you alive.
What’s the story?
Kind of an Irish Aga Saga - Ellen escapes her unhappy marriage and manipulative mother by going back to the country town where she spent happy summers as a child.
Shudder - peeling wallpaper, dank rooms?
Until she gets the builders in, then it’s bright paint, conservatory, sexy cherrywood and granite kitchen, sexy kitchen installer.
Whoah, say again?
Yup, Eugene, gorgeous, flirty carpenter, has a fine pair of hands on him, and wants to get them on our Ellen. But he’s 12 years younger than her - shock horror - and she’s now a teacher in the local school.
She’ll bring disgrace on the family
Aha, your roots are showing. The nearest thing Ellen has to local family is her uncle Matt, whose wife, Julia, is icy and distant and wouldn’t have Ellen to stay when she was a kid.
And for why, like?
Matt married Julia at his mother’s instigation when the woman of his heart left him for someone else. Or so they say….
It’s good, so?
Brilliant. Not a pageturner, but told in a very appealing dialogue-heavy, slangy style. You like these characters and want to know what’s going to happen to them.
Gonna be a country girl again, eh?
Small-town, really. The local shopkeeper who’s avid for gossip. The way everyone knows everyone else’s business. The sly power plays by parents who bully the teachers.
Who’s this Cláir?
Poet, short story writer, novelist - this is her second novel; the first, Four Houses & A Marriage, was published by Poolbeg in 1997. Civil & Strange came out last year in the US, to critical acclaim, before arriving here.
It’s a buy, then?
A gently funny book that’ll make you nostalgic for your old home town.
US publisher's site

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