Mini reviews: This is Happiness by Niall Williams, The Girls from See Saw Lane by Sandy Taylor & The Lighterman by Simon Michael

While I’m still taking a back seat from formal reviewing, I’d like to keep my hand in by sharing mini reviews of the few books I’m managing to read. They won’t be in depth, but hopefully just a flavour of what the book’s about. I still have difficulty with remembering and/or often missing words, so that what I’m thinking in my head, doesn’t always make it to the page, so I apologise if they feel a bit flat and stilted. That’s down to me and not the books. It goes without saying that I felt them worthy of writing about and enjoyed them all or I wouldn’t be posting.

Addendum: After finishing this post I realised these reviews are actually not that mini. That may be a good or bad thing. Either I’m improving or I’ve just subjected you to a lot of mindless rambling – don’t feel obliged to let me know, especially if it’s the latter. It has also taken several re-reads to notice the words I’ve missed out so it’s still problematic. Whichever it is, I certainly feel more comfortable writing my reviews, mini or otherwise on an ad hoc basis so don’t get too worried/excited (you choose)!

 

This is Happiness by Niall Williams

 

This is HappinessChange is coming to Faha, a small Irish parish unaltered in a thousand years.

For one thing, the rain is stopping. Nobody remembers when it started; rain on the western seaboard is a condition of living. But now – just as Father Coffey proclaims the coming of the electricity – the rain clouds are lifting. Seventeen-year-old Noel Crowe is idling in the unexpected sunshine when Christy makes his first entrance into Faha, bringing secrets for which he needs to atone. Though he can’t explain it, Noel knows right then: something has changed.

As the people of Faha anticipate the endlessly procrastinated advent of the electricity, and Noel navigates his own coming-of-age and his fallings in and out of love, Christy’s past gradually comes to light, casting a new glow on a small world.

 

For me, this was indeed happiness with a capital H. I’ve been in love with the author’s writing since I first read The Four Letters of Love way back in the 1990’s. He has a poetic way of writing that draws you in and is all encompassing.

I listened to This is Happiness on audiobook, expertly read by the wonderful Dermot Crowley. His accent and intonation further draws out the Irishness that I think  characterises the author’s writing and makes it so beautiful and lyrical.

I should add here I’m not without bias, as this book is set in County Clare, Ireland. I married into an Irish family from Clare and know the area reasonably well. I’ve also come to know the phrasing and nuances of the language and the characteristics of the people and places that are expertly brought to life in this book.

The story is that of Noel (Noe) Crowe as an old man looking back at the summer he stayed with his grandparents in Faha as a 17 year old. It’s the late 1950’s and things are about to change as electricity is being brought to the rural villages of Ireland under the Rural Electrification Scheme. Life will be transformed and Noe’s life was no exception. The summer that saw the coming of ‘the electricity’ also brought Christy. Christy was his grandparents lodger working for the Electricity board. He introduced Noe to alcohol and music as they searched around the pubs for the elusive blind musician Junior Creehan. He also introduced Noe to the workings, and failings, of the human heart. It was the summer that Noe fell in love with not one, but all 3 of the Doctor’s daughters and had his eyes opened to life.

It’s a coming of age story for Noe and the community, told in a way that only Niall Williams could tell it.  It captures perfectly the innocence of both and the worldliness that will follow. It conjures up a realistic and authentic picture of rural Ireland in the 1950’s. It’s an Ireland where the church is the beating heart of the community, and whether rich or poor all, at least on a Sunday, are equal. But it’s also an Ireland on the cusp of change. That said if you’ve driven the rural roads of Clare, listened to the stories of those who still live there, despite all the modern trappings and luxuries it’s a world that I feel at times is still not that far away.

I have a feeling that this will be a hard book to beat and is already in the running for my book of the year. I acknowledge that my affinity with the subject might colour my view, but I urge you to read it.

 

 

The Girls from See Saw Lane by Sandy Taylor

 

Girls from See Saw LaneBrighton 1963. Mary Pickles and I walked along the street with our arms linked, looking in shop windows. We were best friends and together we were invincible.

Dottie and Mary forged a friendship over a bag of penny sweets when they were eight years old. They’ve shared everything together since then – the highs and lows of school, family dramas, hopes and dreams and now, at seventeen, they’re both shop girls, working at Woolworths.

As they go out in the world in pursuit of love and happiness, the simplicity of their childhood dissolves as life becomes more complicated. The heady excitement of first love will consume them both, but the pain of unintentional betrayal will test their friendship in ways neither of them could ever imagine…

 

I really enjoyed this. It’s one that I’ve had waiting for a while and owed a review for on NetGalley, so I hope this and my few words added on Goodreads and Amazon will go some way to salving my conscience.

It’s a book that draws you in quickly and I was soon bound up in Mary and Dottie’s lives. Childhood friends, they both now work in Woolworth’s. At 17 they’re young,  free, single and having fun. But Mary doesn’t see herself in Brighton forever she has ambitious dreams of going to art school in Paris. Dottie however has simpler, more traditional hopes of getting married, settling down and having a family. But life has a way of thwarting plans and in this case in ways neither they nor I saw coming.

It’s an evocative read for anyone with memories of the sixties. It vividly recreates the social mores of the time that dictated the way people lived their lives and contributed to the tragedy that strikes the girls. The storytelling with it’s descriptions of the coffee bars, the music, the clothes  and the dances all helped give the book another touch of authenticity. It had me well and truly hooked and involved.

While it looks a light read, it has it’s darker tones and a poignancy I hadn’t anticipated when I first became immersed in Brighton’s sixties cafe culture. Thankfully there’s another book that follows that will hopefully give me the outcome I was wishing for.

 

The Lighterman by Simon Michael

 

LightermanLondon, 1964

Life for Charles Holborne seems to be settling down. He has a steady girlfriend, is in demand at the courts, and is back in contact with his estranged family.

Unfortunately, though, he’s got on the wrong side of two of the most dangerous men in London: Ronnie and Reggie Kray.

A shock encounter leads to Charles taking on one of the most important briefs of his career.

But as old prejudices resurface and Charles’s past comes back to haunt him, it seems not only his reputation, but his life could be on the line…

Can Charles settle the score with the Kray Twins? Will he lay to rest the ghosts of the past?

Or will his defence of The Lighterman be the last case he ever takes…?

 

I love this series, which came as a surprise to me as I never expected gangland London and the Krays to be my thing. However, I was hooked from book one (see my review here).  As the series progresses, we get to discover more about Charles’s private life and this is the most revealing so far. We spend as much time on the river, both in the past and the present as we do in court, but it’s all relevant.

With this one the gloves are really off – figuratively and literally – as we get to see Charles (or Charlie as we now know him) as we’ve never seen him before. With the Krays breathing down his neck and a court case that is very personal, Charlie has to fight like he’s never fought before.

As well as featuring the trademark court scenes and the niceties of the legal process we get to see the seamier side of life and the law. The gangland culture of 1960’s London seemed largely to thrive because of police collusion. Too many coppers and members of the judiciary were on the take leaving honest brokers like Charlie wondering whether playing fair was really the way to achieve results.

This series really holds a light up to the corruption and prevailing attitudes of the times while also managing to tell a cracking story. I must admit that I also fall a little bit more in love with Charlie each time I meet him. Luckily I’ve got the next two books in the series to keep me happy.

15 comments

    • You might be interested in a series of books he co-wrote with his wife, following their return (from US) to live in Ireland. I read them years ago and have recently tracked down s/h copies for a feature I’m considering. They’ll appear in this months purchases list.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Meggy. The Simon Michael books are courtroom dramas with a link to the gangland/corruption culture of 1960’s London, rather than gangs per se. It’s a great series and now you’re in London you can track down all the places mentioned!

      Like

  1. Lovely post, Jill. Good to see you’re able not only read comfortably but writing reviews – ad hoc or otherwise, ‘mini’ or not as long as you enjoy doing them is the most important thing. The Charles Holborne Legal Thriller series sounds good.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Janet. I think taking the pressure off ‘having’ to write one helps. I doubt I’ll be reviewing every book I read but it’s good to keep my hand in. If you read ebooks the first in the Charles Hikbirne series is (or was) 99p. Both me and the OH love them.

      Liked by 1 person

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