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Reading in the Dark


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About the Author

Seamus Deane was born in Derry in 1940. He is the author of a number of books of criticism and poetry, as well as the general editor of The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing. He currently teaches at the University of Notre Dame.


In this extraordinary debut, a young boy growing up in Northern Ireland in the 1940s and 1950s picks his way through a minefield of familial and national trauma finally to arrive at a terrible secret that will distort his life forever. At first, the novel seems to move randomly, as the narrator details in luminous, penetrating prose the tragic death of a sibling, conflict with his father, the daily trials and tribulations of church and school, and scrapes with the hated police. But a sense of foreboding overlays every event, and the reason begins emerging out of the beautiful mist of the story: the father's brother Eddie was "executed" as an informer, and his transgression marks the family forever. Then the novel takes one terrific twist after another as we learn that the mother's father ordered the execution, that Eddie was in fact set up, and how other family members are implicated in the tragedy. Here is that rare book that promises to startle you with its revelations‘and succeeds. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/97.]‘Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"

YA‘The narrator of this coming-of-age novel lives in Derry, Northern Ireland, and is the third oldest child in a large Catholic family that has been loosely connected with the IRA since its inception. The narrator's earliest memories begin in February 1945, when he first starts to perceive the secrets within his family. Each chapter is short, dated with a month and year in which some new comprehension or perception of the world outside opens up to him. There is pathos as he remembers his sister's death, his Aunt Ena's death, his grandfather's deathbed confession, and his mother's growing depression, but there is also humor. Each episode is linked to another with various personalities emerging to weld these links to the narrator's understanding of the life around him and his family's role in it. Superstitions, spells, myths, fairy eyes, the Fianna, the old fort of Grianan, the Catholic Church, and always the storytelling blend themselves in this contemporary look at life in County Donegal through the eyes of one young boy. The underlining mystery, the novel's readability, and the experiences of this protagonist make this fictional memoir highly recommended for all YAs.‘Dottie Kraft, formerly at Fairfax County Public Schools, VA

Deane is a poet and a celebrated literary historian, and this, his first novel, was deservedly shortlisted for England's Booker prize last year (it did win the Guardian Fiction Prize). At first glance, it covers familiar turf: an Irish family riven by the political strife of the 1920s trying to live with the legacy of bloodshed and betrayal‘all seen through the eyes of a sensitive young boy as he looks back 20 years later. But Deane has a poet's eye, which transforms the most everyday material into something eternally rich and strange: "The rain lifted away, the sunlight lay piebald on the path for a brief time, then the rain shuttered us in again." And he watches the long struggles of the family with the same kind of patient endurance they themselves display. Gradually, their story emerges from the mists in which it has been wrapped for a generation: an uncle who in family legend had fled to Chicago had in fact been executed, mistakenly, as an informer on the IRA by members of his own family; the real informer, who had been loved by the boy's mother and had briefly married her sister, had escaped, tipped off by the police. Mother and father each know some of the story, and realize that knowing all of it will drive them apart; their life together is a long, loving grief. All this is glimpsed by the narrator in hints and flashes, combined with hilarious surges of comic relief‘a lecture on the facts of life by a well-meaning priest, an incomprehensible math lesson at school, the brisk tirades of a local madman, a sly way of getting back at a hated policeman by way of the bishop. In Deane's hands, the language leaps and quivers, and the life he illuminates is at once achingly sad and transfixingly real. 35,000 first printing. (Apr.)

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