New Irish Fiction

WHAT EDEN DID NEXT. By Sheila O’Flanagan. Hachette 2020. 450 pp. $32 99

Eden and Mac are ten-year-old next door neighbours in Galway. She is a bit of a tomboy, plays football with Mac and his friends and is well able to hold her own. But her world changes after her parents are killed in a car accident. She wants to move in with Mac and his family but is instead taken off to Dublin by an aunt and uncle who have no family of their own.

Life goes on. Eden trains as a nurse and works in the A&E department of a large Dublin hospital. She falls in love and marries Andy, a firefighter. She is just pregnant when he is killed while working on a Dublin fire. She is cared for by Andy’s family, who help with raising her daughter.

Meanwhile, back to Mac. He has finished school and university and is working in Seattle in the field of medical nanotechnology. He has formed a relationship with a woman named Jewel, who is killed by her husband. He takes on the care of raising that woman’s young daughter Poppy. They return to Dublin where he continues his work in research.

So here you have a young man and young woman, both having lost their partners and each caring for a young daughter. You know what is going to happen, of course. The good news is that we are only halfway through this big book when it does happen and continues to happen to the end.

However, new problems will arise for both people. Mac is living in a small cul de sac in the northside with its own WhatsApp group, where he is lusted after by some of the other inhabitants, both the married and the single. Meanwhile, Eden is being mothered so closely by Andy’s family that they are surprised when she is not enthusiastic about joining them in their new residence in Wexford. In the end, everything works out fine, however.

This is an old-fashioned romance story and it may well be that your reaction on finishing it may be a sense of achievement, perhaps having speed-read some parts. That being said, this is the thirtieth novel by Dublin author Sheila O’Flanagan, so she is obviously catering to a wide market and a faithful readership.

That being said, the book is an examination of grief and loss and the effects that tragedy can have on individuals. It is about getting used to living again and making new relationships. And if you do get a hold of it, you can safely start at Chapter Two; the opening chapter has lots of characters and has little relevance to the story.

THE ACCOMPLICE. By Steve Cavanagh. Hachette 2022. 319 pp.

Steve Cavanagh was born in Belfast and practised law there for more than 20 years, mostly in civil rights cases. This is the seventh of his novels based on lawyer Eddie Flynn, and it is difficult to imagine that the author can have much time for any courtroom work. His books are set in America, this one in New York. It is the kind of book that one might imagine being used by students in a course introducing young lawyers to the intricacies of the US system.

The villain is a character known as The Sandman, who has been carrying out a number of killings, mostly of women, in all cases accompanied by mistreatment of the body of the victim. He is named in the media as Daniel Miller; when the authorities fail to catch him, they charge his wife instead, accusing her of being aware of her husband’s murders.

The wife is Carrie Miller and she is, in some ways, the central character of the story, although the reader may not realise this until the end. She manages to get Eddie Flynn and his team to defend her, but then goes missing while on bail.

Previous readers of the Flynn books will be familiar with the members of his team: his business partner Kate, his investigator Bloch and his legal expert Harry, a former judge. Finally, there was Gabriel Lake, a former FBI agent with expertise on serial killers. Each is given a chapter of his or her own in the story, only Flynn’s own chapter being in the first person voice.

Cavanagh has a way of drawing his readers into the action, so that it becomes difficult to put the book down. Even when the actual court case begins, the tension remains. Eddie Flynn is not afraid to cut corners if that is necessary or use shady characters from his past and from his own experiences when his father was an important Irish action-man in the Bowery.

A warning. The story has a twist or two at the end. The reader may well feel that that the author has used tricks and if you are someone who does not like to be tricked, you may be a bit cranky after reading the final chapters.

LETTERS TO JUDE. By James Lawless. Balestier Press 2022. 305 pp.

Among the tributes on the back cover of this book is one that describes it as ‘a rich Joycean novel’. That ought to have been a warning, because like some of the great man’s writings, this requires the reader to make an effort. A BIG effort. Joyce even makes a brief appearance towards the end, under the title of Shem the Penman.

We meet the two main characters in the opening chapter. One is Leo who has started a correspondence with a Spaniard named Bernarda. It helps to know that the final ‘a’ in that name means a female, and at any rate, Leo changes her name to Jude when he fears that his wife will learn of his correspondence.

Jude has a young son as a result of a joining with Leo in some sinister past event in which he was forced to carry out the act. He learns about his son early in the letters. It seems to arouse him in a way that required force when the child was conceived. From then on there is much talk about the phallus and the Hindu lingam – the less said about it/them here the better.

In time Leo and Jude are able to correspond without the need for internet or pencil-and-paper. It would be difficult to say what happens, but towards the end, it appears that Leo is old and in hospital, under the care of a Tipperary nurse. Your reviewer, to his foolish credit, managed to reach the end of the book, through every mangled word.

The writing is often clever, with little phrases or sentences that will cause a chuckle. ‘Marriages are impairfect … Someone anguishing for the ack of love … Egotism is i-sore … Seduction is the art of genital persuasion … If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.’

Another feature is the interruption throughout by various characters incidental to the story. So we have JF for the author John Francis, SFC for Stern-Faced Critic, SYC for the Sympathetic Critic and various characters like The Seer of Suburbia, The Red Tart, Research Student, Epicene Examiner and even you the Reader get a chance to get in on the discussions.  

At one stage, the author (JF), decides that there are too many letters in the English alphabet – the Irish language, after all, manages with only 18 – and tries to use only half of the normal 26. The result is confusing. Here is an example, I think:

Reader: But she used some Moslem words too.

Research student: Yes, all intermingling in the soul one lang… All too arr in the world of this live hour dittle dogmas in our do dorlds oxclued all others, fail to flee firtue and falue and theticaes thwailities of gall the greyat libris. Learn fum all poen to all gevreive. Blosc no books. Rho is wight and rho is wong. Woes oo prived de Mouslin girk fram marry higs raeli boy seeping in sorrow for them. Wat nam as right rover mudder’s hap pines in o scently sought.

Reader: The Letters’ strike is making this very hard to … entering the telepathic sphere now. Everything is breaking loose. Where’s Mr Francis?

Leo: In high dudgeon with algebra who keeps looking for X and won’t say Y.

Among his diminishing coterie of friends, your reviewer is known as being less than an enthusiast for James Joyce – give him Flann O’Brien any time – so he is possibly not the best person to understand what the author is getting at in this book. He (the author) is a native of The Liberties in inner Dublin, now dividing his time between Kildare and West Cork. He has won a number of awards for his writing which has drawn praise from several people who know more about that general area than this poor bogman.

Frank is a member of the editorial team of Tinteán.