CIVIL & STRANGE by Cláir Ní Aonghusa


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This gentle debut novel by an Irish poet captures a few crucial months in the lives of two women who renew their relationship against the backdrop of a small farming village in Ireland.

Beatrice, whose beloved son, John, committed suicide, finds herself the object of pity and curiosity when another local lad kills himself in the Irish town of Ballindoon. A widow, Beatrice was once the love of Matt Hughes’ life, but when she married another, Matt reacted by wedding the terrible Julia. Julia, a cold, hard woman, has never been the wife Matt wanted, nor deserved. But he stayed with her to raise their two sons and found solace in the local pub. His niece, Ellen, has recently moved to Ballindoon, leaving behind her controlling and overdramatic mother, Kitty, in Dublin. Also in Dublin, where Ellen once taught school, is her former husband, Christy, a man who never made her feel loved. Still, Kitty has a fondness for Christy and does her best to draw Christy and Ellen back together. After leaving Dublin, Ellen purchases an old family property where she once spent childhood summers and renovates it. While there, she catches the eye of a younger man who finds her attractive. Eventually, Beatrice and Ellen rekindle their relationship—Ellen once played with Beatrice’s now-grown daughters who married Englishmen and moved away—and Matt endures his inhospitable wife’s final illness. As Matt’s drinking sends him careening toward disaster, Ellen’s relationship with her suitor heats up, and Beatrice entertains a phone call—and a visit—from her other son, Andy, who moved to New York and has not spoken to his mother in years. Meanwhile, Ellen must take on Kitty’s illness as a new chapter in her life unfolds.

A nice portrait of small-town Irish life studded with characters worth caring about, but told in a distracting present tense, which diminishes the good writing.

Pub Date: March 11th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-618-82936-1
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2008