A historically interesting look at a time when Erin was anything but a Celtic Tiger.


A story of harsh economic realities in postwar Ireland and the mixed blessing of England’s reconstruction.

Mac Amlaigh (1926-1989) was born in Galway, Ireland, grew up in Kilkenny, and in 1960 published his first book, An Irish Navvy: The Diary of an Exile (1960). It was a nonfiction account of his life as a laborer in 1950s England, part of a postwar Irish diaspora. This novel, published in 1986, was his last book and echoes the first with autobiographical elements, depicting in alternating chapters three Irish characters in the early 1950s linked mainly by how Ireland’s lack of work and England’s abundance of jobs define their lives. Niall leaves military service and returns to Kilkenny to learn that a friend in the town to whom he sent 30 pounds (about $1,390 today) for a business partnership has absconded to England. Niall struggles with life on the dole and the ever tempting balm of drunkenness. Nano works as a nurse’s assistant in a British hospital because her boyfriend in Ireland is tethered to a possessive mother. She enjoys a bit of freedom, thanks to her saucy roommate, while coping with the allure of a handsome gardener. Trevor likes work as a navvy in England, digging trenches and avoiding the ties of his wife and children in Ireland. But when a brutish Dubliner beats up his brother-in-law, Trevor must uphold family honor and his reputation as a top bare-knuckle fighter. Mac Amlaigh wrote in Irish, and his translator renders the prose as plainspoken as his working-class characters, with hopeful, even romantic moments for Niall and Nano and touches of the heroic for Trevor and his mighty foe. While he isn’t much of a stylist, Mac Amlaigh knows these lives and conveys them well.

A historically interesting look at a time when Erin was anything but a Celtic Tiger.

Pub Date: March 17, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-912681-31-0

Page Count: 350

Publisher: Parthian Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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A quick, biting critique of the publishing industry.

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What happens when a midlist author steals a manuscript and publishes it as her own?

June Hayward and Athena Liu went to Yale together, moved to D.C. after graduation, and are both writers, but the similarities end there. While June has had little success since publication and is struggling to write her second novel, Athena has become a darling of the publishing industry, much to June’s frustration. When Athena suddenly dies, June, almost accidentally, walks off with her latest manuscript, a novel about the World War I Chinese Labour Corps. June edits the novel and passes it off as her own, and no one seems the wiser, but once the novel becomes a smash success, cracks begin to form. When June faces social media accusations and staggering writer’s block, she can’t shake the feeling that someone knows the truth about what she’s done. This satirical take on racism and success in the publishing industry at times veers into the realm of the unbelievable, but, on the whole, witnessing June’s constant casual racism and flimsy justifications for her actions is somehow cathartic. Yes, publishing is like this; finally someone has written it out. At times, the novel feels so much like a social media feed that it’s impossible to stop reading—what new drama is waiting to unfold. and who will win out in the end? An incredibly meta novel, with commentary on everything from trade reviews to Twitter, the ultimate message is clear from the start, which can lead to a lack of nuance. Kuang, however, does manage to leave some questions unanswered: fodder, perhaps, for a new tweetstorm.

A quick, biting critique of the publishing industry.

Pub Date: May 16, 2023

ISBN: 9780063250833

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2023

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