Kirkus Star


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A grim, absorbing portrait of childhood in Northern Ireland in the 1950s, distinguished by a language of great clarity and vigor and by a relentless exploration of the corrupting power of secrets and fear. The narrator of this highly accomplished first novel is a small child when the tale begins, watching his mother, who is in turn watching for a ghost she believes to be inhabiting the family's house. Ghosts thread throughout here: There are the wonderfully strange, sad spirits inhabiting the stories characters tell one another. There are the ghosts of family members, dead as a result of ""the troubles,"" preserved in memories that grow more heroic, and less real, with the passing years. And there are the secrets at the heart of the story, betrayals and suspicions that come to haunt the narrator and his parents, to corrupt and largely destroy the family. Deane, a critic and poet, manages both to catch the complex reality of a child's imagination as it grapples with the world (there are marvelous passages on the landscapes of Derry as seen through a child's eyes, the pleasures of childhood games, the nature of life in a large, rowdy, poor family) and the deforming power of hatred. In the 1950s, Catholics in Northern Ireland were still a voiceless minority. In one of the novel's most powerful scenes, the narrator's father must stand by helpless and watch as two of his sons are beaten by the local police. Most of the action here is internal, as Deane traces the growing consciousness of his narrator, his discovery of the acceptance of ambiguity and pain that accompany maturity. There is great cumulative power in this, and the narrator's discovery of an old, potent, poisonous family secret (combining matters of political importance with timeless flaws of the human heart) is quietly shattering. A work of exceptional power and originality. One of the year's most notable debuts.

Pub Date: April 18th, 1997
ISBN: 1445832623
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Knopf