GIVE THEM STONES by Mary Beckett


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The US edition of a deeply felt and finely made novel about 60 years of family life in Catholic Belfast, first published in Great Britain. The apt title is a quotation from Miss Lonelyhearts: ""When they ask for bread, don't give them crackers, as does the Church, and don't, like the State, tell them to eat cake. Explain that man cannot live by bread alone and give them stones."" Martha Hughes, the novel's narrator, whose life transpires from birth to an unpassionate marriage to advancing age in half a mile of besieged Belfast shantytown, maintains a much more tractable view than this of the Protestant purges and ""troubles"" that savage her impoverished people--until, at 60, she witnesses a small, final atrocity that brings her to a small but dangerous rebellion. When Martha sees the local militia place a neighbor boy against a wall and shoot him, first in one leg and then the other, crippling him, she refuses to sell the bread she has learned to bake to soldiers or police any longer, even though most of her customers have fled the neighborhood and she needs the income. As punishment, police turn her and husband Dermot, whose grown children are scattered to more prosperous places, out of the rough little house that is the love of Dermot's life (it was his mother's), and they learn to take nourishment from each other. The pleasures of this sad and moving story are many: beautiful descriptions of family and community life in Belfast from the mid-20's on; warm or eccentric but always finely drawn secondary characters; and a narrator whose homely affections and modest aspirations vibrate with life and hope.

Pub Date: March 18th, 1987
Publisher: Beech Tree/Morrow