Book Review, Book of the week

Book reviews

The Closet of Savage Mementos by Nuala Ní Chonchúir, published by New Island. Here’s an extract from chapter one.

In the church on Ardmair Street, the Blessed Virgin has a Western European face – she is chubby and big jawed. Her form is so familiar to me that I feel comforted and safe, as if I am in the company of an old friend. There is a pink carnation threaded through her fingers, its head is lopped and barely clinging to the stem; the flower is forlorn looking and, to cheer up the statue, I want to pluck it from her hands and replace it with a whole blossom. I have come to pray for Dónal; he is soaking my dreams and I feel close to him all day afterwards, as if he is at my shoulder. He turned up again last night; he stood across my bedroom from me, not saying anything. I watched him and waited for him to speak. I said ‘Hiya Dó’, but he remained silent.


The statue’s robes are made of real fabric – a spangly gown topped with a teal velvet cloak – and tears bubble on her cheeks. She has a halo of light bulbs and one of them is unlit. The prie-dieu digs into my knees and I lean forward, trying to get some relief. I like the sweet, resinous smell in this tiny church; it is different to the incense that lingers in the parish church at home. Here there is only one Mass a week, for the few Catholics who live in the village. I bow my head, close my eyes and search my mind for a prayer. I stopped calling for godly help years ago but, since Dónal’s death, the need to pray has crept back in. If God exists, I imagine that He is considering my prayers wryly, the sinner looking for succour when it suits her. But I pray anyway: for Dónal, for my mother Verity, my brother Robin, and for myself. As my Granny King liked to say, praying certainly can’t do any harm.

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I wonder for a moment if Dónal can hear me, then I dismiss the thought. He hated the church and all about it. He would laugh at me now for being a hypocrite, for being soft. I look up at a squinting portrait of Christ – he looks sceptical in it, as if he is debating something strange that someone has said. Turning back to Mary, I bring my hands up in front of my face; I can feel tears heating the back of my eyes. I push them away and breathe deeply. The statue looks robustly healthy, like a country nurse; she hasn’t got the lissom orm of Our Lady of Knock. I wonder if she might be the Virgin of Scotland.

‘Help me,’ I say, not realising I have said the words aloud until a man who is kneeling at the altar hurls a vicious stare in my direction. He stands, genuflects three times, blesses himself over and over, then leaves the church, tossing angry looks at me. I get up, rub at my knees and walk under the stained-glass windows that scatter cheery yellows and blues in my path. I go outside into the welcome saline air and trot the length of Ardmair Street, back to my room in the staff house.

I lie down on the bed to think about Dónal. Missing him is a dull, never-ending buzz in my brain, even six months on. I can’t let him in during my day-to-day, but I have to bring him back to me at times. I love the nights when he turns up in my dreams, but think-dreaming him in the daytime – conjuring him up – lets me take him back from death for a while.

Book review, recommended reading, Sean Kelly, autobiography

Book Title: Hunger: The Autobiography

ISBN-13: 978-0956781437

Author: Sean Kelly

Publisher: Peloton Publishing

Guideline Price: €18.99

Given that he retired almost 20 years ago, it may seem surprising that Sean Kelly has only now written his autobiography and got his side of the story out into the open. But, in other respects, it’s not unexpected. Kelly was a man of few words when he competed as a professional cyclist.


Although he has opened up considerably in the years since, his natural introversion gradually diminished by the television-commentary work that requires him to talk for hours on end, he remains a matter-of-fact character.

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His former racing colleague Stephen Roche is by nature more expansive, more expressive and more welcoming of the limelight. For Roche attention was one of the perks; for Kelly it was something to be endured.

He’s famously remembered as the guy who once nodded in response to a question on radio. In Hunger he claims not to remember it, but it is not difficult to imagine it happening.

Sean Kelly Background

For that reason the chance to delve deeper into Kelly’s background, his career and his motivation is to be welcomed. World number one between 1984 and 1989, winner of the Tour of Spain and four-time green-jersey champion in the Tour de France, plus the victor of several tour stages, countless Classics and a slew of stage races, the Co Tipperary rider is one of the top 10 cyclists of all time. He’s also one of the most successful Irish sportsmen ever.

The book begins near the end, documenting Kelly’s final Classic win, in the 1992 Milan-Sanremo. Nearing his 36th birthday, and with the scars and scrapes and toil of 18 professional seasons starting to weigh him down, the veteran raised his game one more time and pulled off an unexpected win.

The key was the Poggio climb – or rather its descent. The Italian rider Moreno Argentin went over the top 15 seconds clear of the rest and, in superb early-season form, seemed destined to triumph. Kelly had other thoughts. The hill is followed by a serpentine descent into Sanremo, a looping, twisting road with dangerous switchbacks every few hundred metres.

Argentin went down fast; Kelly went down even faster. He eked out metres over the other riders in his group with each hairpin curve, drawing clear, and his skill and recklessness brought him closer and closer to his prey.

Sean Kelly Career

He got across to Argentin just before the final kilometre, then blasted past him in the final sprint. Although he wasn’t as strong as the Italian starting the race, he defeated him through a combination of tactics, skill and risk-taking.

“When the race comes down to the sharp end, when everyone is prepared to bare their teeth, it is the one who is prepared to bite that will win,” he writes.

In other words, the one with the greatest hunger.

Sean Kelly Sporting hero

Those who have followed the sport will know many details of his career: the victories, the defeats, the triumphs and the disappointments. Hunger takes the reader through those again but this time from Kelly’s perspective. There’s also a fleshing out of previous aspects of his story, with details of his early years at home in Ireland among the most fascinating.

He talks about his character, about growing up as a quiet kid on a farm near Carrick-on-Suir. “I was shy, but that wasn’t the only reason I kept my mouth shut. I took after father. If I had nothing to say I didn’t feel the need to fill the silence with blather,” he writes.

In another section he describes his focus on earning, and keeping, money. “Father lived according to the rhythm of the farm, knowing that in times of plenty you put a little something away for the days when there was not so much to spare,” he explains. But he then goes on to say that it was his elder brother Joe who made a bigger impression. “I didn’t like looking across at Joe and seeing his pile of savings after I’d spent all my own money.”

Sean Kelly Tragedy

Harrowingly, Joe would die in his 30s as a result of a cycling accident, but he played a big part in his younger brother’s life. He got Kelly into the sport, his own interest in cycling setting his sibling on a path that would lead him to the top.

That route would see Kelly land major amateur success at home and abroad, be banned from the Olympics after his fellow Irishman Pat McQuaid convinced him to race in South Africa during the apartheid era, secure a pro contract after winning the amateur Tour of Lombardy and go on to early sprint success in the Tour de France.

Other landmarks are covered in the book: briefly wearing the yellow jersey in the 1983 tour, taking his first Classic win later that year, developing into the world’s best one-day rider, finishing fourth and fifth overall in the Tour de France and then winning the Vuelta a España, and experiencing the biggest disappointment of his career when he was outsprinted by Greg LeMond in the 1989 world road-race championships.

Sean Kelly Life

He goes into considerable detail about his life, but this is not a tell-all book about the sport; the subject of doping is passed over relatively quickly, with Kelly explaining away his positive tests for Stimul and codeine in 1984 and 1988 respectively. The first, he suggests, was a testing error; the second was because he had used a cough medication without verifying the ingredients were all allowed.

The allegations made against him by his former team worker Willy Voet are not mentioned. Kelly doesn’t deny substances were abused in the sport, though. He defends Paul Kimmage’s Rough Ride book, which spoke of the subject. “A lot of it was true, so why criticise him?” he asks.

Kelly was always pragmatic. That sentiment comes through repeatedly in this well-written book, but so too does his hunger.

Book reviews, best sellers, irish writerssmauel beckett, John Calder, The Theology of Samuel Beckett and The Garden of Eros

The Theology of Samuel Beckett and The Garden of Eros

John Calder has written The Theology of Samuel Beckett and the Garden of Eros. France has a capital city, Paris, and Paris changes less than other major cities. The meeting places where intellectuals find themselves may change, from Montmartre to Montparnasse, from Saint-Germain-des-Près to eastern Paris and some of the suburbs where life is cheaper and the arts encouraged and even financially assisted. However, people still go back to the old haunts, restaurants and cafes like the Dôme, the Select and the Falstaff, and even the more touristy venues such as the Deux Magots and the Flore, and the Right Bank’s well-known restaurants such as Fouquet’s, not to mention the grand hotels where English is more commonly heard than any other language.


He continues, I have spent a lot of time in Paris, first as a young publisher looking for authors, later as a resident, but I always made a point of becoming a friend of the writers I took on, and spending time with them in cafes and over meals. Some I came to translate from other languages, primarily French, but some were exiles writing in English. One such writer, who became a very close friend from the time I met him in 1955 up to his death in 1989, was Samuel Beckett.

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Samuel Beckett

In 1928 Beckett first went to Paris to teach, where he fell in with the Joyce Irish circle, and where he returned frequently to try to write, much to the despair of his well-to-do Protestant business family in Dublin, who could not understand why their academically brilliant son would not settle down to a conventional job, but preferred to be penniless in bohemian Paris, writing novels that no one was interested in reading.

Samuel Beckett preferred to spend the second World War with his friends in wartime Paris rather than in neutral Ireland, and there he took part in the underground resistance, was wanted by the Gestapo, which had arrested most of his friends, and spent most of the war hiding in the Vaucluse mountains in the south, working on his third book. It was not published until well after the war, after his later novels, written in French, had given him a small, but limited recognition. It was only after the worldwide success of his play Waiting for Godot, first performed in 1953, that he was able to make a living, and by that time his long-suffering parents were both dead.

Samuel Beckett the Man

Beckett was above all else, a total pessimist, obsessed by the many horrors of world events and especially by man’s cruelty to man and even to animals, Beckett had a negative attitude to our short lives on this planet and our attraction to wars, killing and cruelty and tendency to dominate others. He once said that he had nothing against happiness, but personally had no talent for it.

The writer continues, Walking along the Boulevard du Montparnasse one day, I commented that it was a fine day. He looked at the sky and replied “So far”. When at a cricket match with Harold Hobson, the theatre critic, who had observed, “On a day like this, it makes you glad to be alive”, his reply was, “I wouldn’t go so far as that.”

Life’s simple pleasures, such as meeting friends and a good meal with grilled sole and white wine in restaurants such as Aux Îles Marquises on the rue de la Gaité, were about the only pleasures that Beckett allowed himself.

Samuel Beckett a Friend

The publisher says of Beckett, When I first knew Beckett, and some years before I published his non-dramatic work, I would often spend whole nights with him in cafes, playing chess and sipping beer. He would talk about Joyce and other favourite authors and other subjects that interested us both, but never about his own work, which he handed over without comment, often expecting me not to like it, but I always did.

Paris provided a retreat: We would walk around Paris and eat at his favourite haunts, some of them now gone or changed in character. The Coupole stayed open most of the night then and many large groups of friends would meet there, talking almost to breakfast time. But things are different now and the Coupole has become mainly a tourist trap that closes comparatively early. Situated on the main street of Montparnasse, it is surrounded by every variety of eating place, small theatres and boutiques.

John Calder says, Beckett lived not far away, in later years preferring to meet visitors in a conventional hotel across the Boulevard St Jacques, the PLM, rather than inviting them to his sixth-floor apartment. He would arrive punctually at his appointed time and leave exactly when he had decided to leave. Many of Irish photographer John Minihan’s now famous photographs of Beckett were taken there (see photograph, above).

John Calder says, Anecdotes about him mainly concern his extreme generosity. When waiting for his passport to be renewed at the Irish Embassy one day, he ran into two tourists who were penniless, having been mugged. Beckett emptied his pockets to let them go out to eat and was consequently unable to pay for his passport or a bus home. On another occasion, after being accosted by two Irish labourers in Paris who had lost their way, he walked them back to their hotel and then, as they had no idea what to do, took them out for a good dinner and then, most uncharacteristically, to a nightclub, leaving them at the hotel again at four in the morning. When questioned in Dublin, knowing only their benefactor’s name, they were surprised to be told that he was a famous writer of extreme modesty.

Samuel Beckett the Final Days

Irish Whiskey, Jameson, was his staple drink and he was always brought bottles by visitors when he was in the old people’s home on the rue Rémy Dumoncel in the 14th arrondissement, where he spent his final months. When asked how to spell a word one day, I realised that he had nothing to read and thereafter I brought him books and dictionaries. Having been born at Easter, on the day of the crucifixion, he died at Christmas in 1989, giving an emphasis to his favourite line in Godot, that one is born “astride of a grave”.

However, in spite of his negative attitude and all the strivings of our consumer society to make us look at life positively, Beckett’s work constantly grows in popularity and, paradoxically, one always feels better coming out of a Beckett performance or reading a prose work.

In his new book John Calder’s The Theology of Samuel Beckett he looks into his complex thoughts about the religion he grew up with, which played a major role when he was nursing his dying mother and are the daring roots of his late semi-biblical writing. Beckett thought about religion all his life and it is a constant background to all of his work, but in an often astonishing way.

Samuel Beckett both Irish and French

Samuel Beckett is claimed by both France and Ireland, to such an extent that when Mary Robinson was invited to lunch by the French president, they argued over his nationality and had to send for an academic to solve the problem.

France’s capital, Paris, is suffering from the same economic downturn as most of Europe but, as during the war and the German occupation, it affects ordinary life very little. The French are great survivors and although spending money might be less and there is much protest at unemployment, longer working hours and pension reductions, life goes on as usual with meetings in cafes, much exchange of ideas and political discussion, and visits to theatresmovie-houses, concert halls and operas continuing as normal. Paris is well-served in every branch of culture and every museum has waiting queues, sometimes hours long, for entry.

Book shops a dying art

It is fair to say that bookshops in English-speaking countries have almost entirely disappeared because of the abandonment of price maintenance, France is protected by a law passed by Jack Lang, who understood the needs of literature and bookshops in particular.

Bookshops cannot stock a wide range of books for different readers unless they can make enough on bestsellers to enable them to also display slow-selling ones intended for a more intellectual readership. French law limits discounts to 5 per cent.

Alas, this means English-language bookshops have a hard struggle and depend on customer loyalty, which has led to closure of all the bookshops selling English books except one, and the obvious tourist ones. The Village Voice, a meeting place for book-lovers for 35 years, closed down last summer, leaving only Shakespeare and Company, which is ideally situated on the Paris riverside and is un-missable by visitors of every variety. Once a second-hand shambles, it is now run by the founder’s daughter, Sylvia Whitman, who has modernised it and brought in much order.

France’s famous Paris has suffered from the same eccentric weather as most of Europe this year, but life goes on as normal and the city remains a draw for food- and pleasure-seekers, with endless exhibitions, performances and historic attractions. With the holiday season approaching, it will close most of its shops until la rentrée brings it back to life in September.

The insightful John Calder’s The Theology of Samuel Beckett and The Garden of Eros – The Story of the Paris Expatriates and the Post-war Literary Scene have just been published.

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Book Reviews, Novels, Summer reading list, John Le Carre, recommended reading list, best sellers,

Little Beauty

By Alison Jameson

(Doubleday Ireland, £12.99)

It’s 1975, and Laura Quinn is desperate to leave the remote island off the west coast of Ireland where she grew up. Her parents are both dead, and her relationship with her lover, Martin, seems to be going nowhere. So she goes to an interview for a job as housekeeper for a prosperous couple living on the mainland, an encounter that will change her life forever. Finely crafted and featuring a brilliantly complicated heroine, Jameson’s heart-breaking third novel is a moving story about social mores and the power of parental love.


A Delicate Truth

By John le Carré

(Penguin Viking, £18.99)

It’s 50 years since John le Carré made his name with The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, and he’s in vintage form in his 23rd novel. It’s a typically complex, humane and intelligent story of government cover-ups and military contractors, as a retired diplomat and a troubled civil servant search for the truth behind the botched capture of a jihadist arms dealer in Gibraltar.

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls

By Anton DiSclafani

(Tinder Press, £13.99)

It’s 1930, the Depression is starting to affect even the most privileged families, and 15-year-old Thea has left her Florida home for Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, in North Carolina. For plenty of horse-loving girls, spending a few months in the beautiful mountain camp would be heaven, but Thea, who desperately misses her pony and her beloved twin brother, Sam, feels like an exile. She’s been sent away from her parents in disgrace, for reasons that become clear by the end of this atmospheric debut novel.

The Humans

By Matt Haig

(Canongate, £10.99)

Dr Andrew Martin is a Cambridge academic who has just made a mathematical breakthrough that could change the course of history. Unfortunately for him, this means he has to die. An assassin from the planet Vonnadoria has taken over Martin’s body and must now kill anyone he may have told about his achievement. The Vonnadorian is initially repulsed by life on Earth, but as he comes to know Martin’s family, their dog and the poetry of Emily Dickinson, he starts wondering whether humans are quite so hideous after all. Haig’s fifth novel for adult readers is funny, touching and wise.

The Society of Timid Souls

By Polly Morland

(Profile Books, £14.99)

What does it mean to be brave? That’s what the documentary-maker Polly Morland tries to find out in this wonderful book, inspired by a group of musicians in 1940s Manhattan who came together in order to tackle their stage fright. This original Society of Timid Souls believed that one could learn to be brave. Were they right? And what is courage anyway? Morland investigates the origins of our greatest fears and meets people who have behaved with courage, from a tightrope walker to a man who confronted a suicide bomber. The results are thought-provoking, insightful and fascinating.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

By Ayana Mathis

(Hutchinson, £12.99)

Over the first six or so decades of the 20th century, six million black Americans left the brutally segregated south for the comparative freedom of the north in what became known as the Great Migration. Mathis’s powerful debut novel tells the story of one of those families. In 1923, 15-year old Hattie Shepherd leaves Georgia for Philadelphia, where she starts a large family. Her 11 children and one grandchild are the 12 tribes of the title, and as Mathis tells their sometimes tragic, sometimes hopeful stories she also paints a memorable portrait of Hattie, the matriarch who holds the family together.

The Last Banquet

By Jonathan Grimwood

(Canongate, £11.99)

Grimwood’s brilliantly evocative new book reads like a cross between Patrick Süskind and Angela Carter. Set in the 18th century, it’s the story of Jean-Marie d’Aumont, an orphan with a powerful appetite who was born into an impoverished noble family. When we meet him, he’s eating dung beetles, but he’ll go on to concoct imaginative recipes for everything from dogs to tiger flesh. (Most things, he discovers, taste like chicken or beef.) But as Jean-Marie’s fortunes improve, so does social tension both at home and in America, and he comes to realise that “history will happen. It cannot be denied”.

Paper Aeroplanes

By Dawn O’Porter

(Hot Key Books, £7.99)

The journalist and television presenter Dawn O’Porter’s debut novel is the story of two 15-year-old girls in 1990s Guernsey. Shy Flo struggles with a bitchy “best friend” and a distant mother, while sexually adventurous Renee struggles to deal with the death of her mother. O’Porter perfectly captures the sometimes ludicrous complexities of adolescence, and everyone should relate to this heartbreakingly funny depiction of friendship and loss.


By Eoin Colfer

(Headline, £16.99)

The award-winning Colfer returns to adult fiction with another pleasingly hard-boiled novel about Daniel McEvoy, the down-on-his-luck hero of his earlier novel Plugged. In his first outing, McEvoy, a soldier turned bouncer in a grotty New Jersey pub, turned detective. Now he has moved up in the world, but he finds himself the target of some very dangerous men.

Tiny Beautiful Things

By Cheryl Strayed

(Atlantic Books, £8.99)

A collection of advice columns by an online agony aunt may not sound like appealing holiday reading. But Tiny Beautiful Things might be one of the most profound yet enjoyable books you read this summer. Strayed, best known for her critically acclaimed memoir, Wild, offers compassionate, no-nonsense advice to readers of the culture website in a series of often personal essays that are by turns tender, profane, funny and incredibly moving.

Red Sky in Morning

By Paul Lynch

(Quercus, £12.99)

The film writer Paul Lynch’s debut novel is the darkly compelling story of a young man named Coll Coyle, who accidentally kills his landlord’s callous son in a fit of desperation. Coyle is forced to leave his wife and child and flee to the US, pursued by the dogged John Faller. But he discovers that life in the New World can be just as brutal as life in the old. Inspired by a true story and written in lyrical yet accessible prose, this accomplished novel marks Lynch out as a writer to watch.

Going Back

By Rachael English

(Orion, £12.99)

In 1988 Elizabeth Kelly heads off to Boston, one of the many young Irish students looking for adventure on a J1 summer visa. Sharing a tiny flat with a gang of fellow students, she finds love with a local, Danny. More than 20 years later, Elizabeth’s daughter Janey also heads to Boston, and Elizabeth is forced to remember her past. Anyone who has wondered what life might have been like if they’d stayed together with a summer love will be charmed by the Morning Ireland presenter’s warm, heartfelt debut novel.


By Stuart Neville

(Harvill Secker, £12.99)

Best known for his excellent crime novels set in modern Belfast, Neville heads into the past for his latest thriller, which mixes shocking historical fact with well-crafted fiction to great effect. It’s 1963, and as Ireland prepares for the visit of John F Kennedy, Minister for Justice Charles J Haughey is trying to cover up the truth behind a series of murders. Three foreign men have been murdered in just a few days, and Haughey is determined to hide the fact that all three were former Nazis who were granted asylum by the Irish government after the the second World War, not least because of his friendship with Otto Skorzeny, a former SS officer who might be the killer’s next target. Intelligence officer Albert Ryan is asked to investigate, but he finds himself forced to choose between the demands of his country and his conscience.


By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

(Fourth Estate, £20)

Ifemelu is a Nigerian writer, blogger and academic who has decided to move back to her home country after 15 years in the US. She contacts her first love, Obinze, who has stayed in Nigeria and become a property developer with a not exactly perfect marriage. This hugely enjoyable new novel moves across several decades and three continents to tell Ifemelu and Obinze’s stories. Ngozi Adichie effortlessly tackles issues of race, class and belonging with compassion and wit, and you’ll be gripped from the first page of this brilliantly evocative book.

The Property

By Rutu Modan

(Jonathan Cape, £16.99)

In this stunning graphic novel by the Israeli artist and writer Rutu Modan, an elderly woman returns to her childhood home in Warsaw, accompanied by her granddaughter Mica, to reclaim the property lost by her family during the second World War. As Mica gets close to a Polish tour guide who may have ulterior motives, her grandmother Regina encounters a surprising reminder of her own past. Modan’s wonderfully Hergé-esque art is the perfect medium for this darkly comic, subtle and deeply moving story.

Intimacy With Strangers:

A Life of Brief Encounters

By Ciaran Carty

(Lilliput Press, €16.99)

Carty has always been one of Ireland’s most thoughtful interviewers, and in his new book he looks back over five decades of meetings with everyone from Beyoncé and Doris Lessing to William Trevor and Danny Boyle. Carty traces the links between his interviewees in a fascinating and personal account of dozens of very different brief encounters.

Life After Life

By Kate Atkinson

(Doubleday, £16.99)

Atkinson takes a break from her successful Jackson Brodie crime novels and returns to the sort of imaginative literary fiction with which she made her name. Life After Life is the story, or rather the stories, of Ursula Todd, who dies as a baby in 1910 only to immediately start her life all over again. Ursula is given not just a second chance but multiple ones, as everything from Spanish flu to the Blitz ends her life and sends her back to the beginning, allowing her to avoid or make the same mistakes over the course of many lifetimes. A dazzling, moving and engrossing novel.

The Storyteller

By Jodi Picoult

(Simon and Schuster, £18.99)

Even those who have never been tempted by Picoult’s issue-led weepies will be won over by this compelling novel. It’s the story of Sage, a reclusive young woman working in a bakery who befriends a lovable old German man at a bereavement-support group. Then Josef tells her his secret: in his youth he was a member of the SS. Now, to atone for his crimes, he wants a Jewish person to kill him – and he has chosen Sage. As the gripping story moves between the consequences of Josef’s request and the wartime experiences of Sage’s grandmother, a Holocaust survivor who may have encountered Josef in Auschwitz, Picoult asks complex questions about morality, forgiveness and redemption.

The Fields

By Kevin Maher

(Little Brown, £12.99)

It’s 1984 in Dublin, and Jim Finnegan is more concerned with dancing to Bronski Beat than with the political issues of the day. But then the teenager attracts the attention of both a predatory priest and a cool older girl. Perfectly capturing what it was like to grow up in 1980s Dublin, Irish journalist Kevin Maher’s wildly funny debut handles its often dark subject matter with aplomb.

Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls

By David Sedaris

(Abacus, £12.99)

Sedaris is the master of the stringently comic yet strangely poignant essay. He’s on fine form in his new collection, in which he writes about his father’s unorthodox dinnertime wear (which doesn’t include trousers), his attempts to befriend members of minority groups and how his love of owl-themed ornaments almost led him to buy a human skeleton. As ever, Sedaris’s work is very funny, beautifully written and surprisingly moving.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

By Neil Gaiman

(Headline, £16.99)

Both a pitch-perfect fantasy and a moving examination of childhood memories and their effects on our adult selves, Gaiman’s superb The Ocean at the End of the Lane is his first novel for adults since 2005. It begins with the unnamed narrator returning, after his father’s funeral, to his childhood home, where memories start to return of an extraordinary experience that to1ok place when he was seven, after the family’s lodger killed himself in the family car. What follows features familial tension, ancient magic, a very old little girl and an ocean that can be carried in a bucket.


Instructions for a Heatwave

By Maggie O’Farrell

(Tinder Press, £13.99)

The story of an Irish family in 1970s London begins when Robert Riordan goes to buy a newspaper and doesn’t come back. The disappearance of this quiet, ordinary man brings together his fractured family; after Robert’s bewildered wife, Gretta, tells their grown-up children about his disappearance, the three younger Riordans return to the family home, where they find themselves wondering if any of them ever really knew their father at all. Elegantly written and populated by unforgettable characters, especially the youngest Riordan, Aoife, it’s a fantastic book.

Town and Country:

New Irish Short Stories

Edited by Kevin Barry

(Faber and Faber, £9.99)

Collected by the Impac award-winning author, Faber’s fourth book of Irish short stories features contributions from both established writers, such as Pat McCabe, Paul Murray and Keith Ridgway, and exciting newcomers, such as Lisa McInerney and Mary Costello, making it a must-read for anyone interested in the future of Irish fiction – and indeed anyone who just wants to read a collection of original, well-crafted short stories.

Kiss Me First

By Lottie Moggach

(Picador, £14.99)

This original and unsettling psychological thriller is already one of the most talked-about debut novels of the year. Leila is an introverted and isolated young woman who finds an online home at a libertarian philosophy website called Red Pill. Then Red Pill’s charismatic founder, Adrian Dervish, makes an extraordinary request: he asks Leila to take over the online life of a young woman called Tess, who has decided to take her own life and wants to “slip away from this world unnoticed . . . without causing pain to her family and friends”. Worryingly convincing, Kiss Me First is a brilliantly twisty thriller that will make you wonder how well you really know your online friends.

Black Narcissus

By Rumer Godden

(Virago Modern Classics, £9.99)

Made into an extraordinary film by the great Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, Godden’s recently reissued 1939 novel is the beautifully unsettling tale of a group of English nuns who establish a convent school in a remote castle in the Himalayas. The nuns are full of good intentions, especially the Irish-born Sr Clodagh, but their isolation, repressed desires and ignorance of the world around them lead to tragedy. Virago Modern Classics has reissued several of Godden’s novels, most of which are set in India and all of which are worth reading.

Anna Carey’s debut novel, The Real Rebecca, won the Senior Children’s Book prize at the 2011 Irish Book Awards. Her third book, Rebecca Rocks, will be published in August.

Book Title: Time Present and Time Past

ISBN-13: 978-0571290864

Author: Deirdre Madden

Publisher: Faber and Faber

Guideline Price: Sterling12.99

“He thinks how, after dinner the other night, he had asked his whole family to sit quietly for a moment before they dispersed. When it happened he could hardly have said why he wanted it; it had been a spontanous request. Now he thinks it had something to do with the idea of stopping time.”

Fintan Buckley is a 47-year-old legal adviser who lives in Howth, in Co Dublin, with his warm-hearted wife, Colette, and their three children. He is middle class, mild and polite. Ordinary, like all the characters in the novel with the possible exception of Fintan’s mother, Joan, an overbearing woman disliked by her children. Sipping coffee in the National Museum and buying expensive clothes in Brown Thomas, Joan wonders if there’s any better life than hers – that of a widow.

Set over three months, in the spring of 2006, the novel doesn’t so much tell a story as provide a snapshot of the extended Buckley family at an interesting juncture in Ireland’s history, the final year of the boom.

The impact of the past on the present, of personal history in the form of disapppointment or childhood trauma on adults, is explored. For instance, Martina, Fintan’s beautiful sister, besides suffering from her mother’s coldness, nurses a bigger secret wound, the nature of which is eventually revealed in an episode as shocking as it is unexpected. And Joan has had her own troubled past.

As well as looking at the effects of personal history on the characters, the novel deals to some extent with the impact of national and international events on individual lives, finally focusing on a moment when the personal and the historical intersect, quietly but devastatingly:

“It is perhaps interesting to note, in light of Fintan’s recent thoughts, that one of the first in a series of dramatic events, as everything begins to unravel, will take place in the middle of the night, namely the bank guarantee.

All the citizens of Ireland will be asleep.”

Here the novel takes a look at the future, foretelling, in a chilling matter-of-fact tone, the impact that the bank guarantee and the recession will have on the destinies of the characters, especially the younger ones.

At this point in her hitherto realistic novel, Madden takes quite a risk. While her cast is in bed, fast asleep, the invisible narrator steps on to their stage and reads a crystal ball, as it were. Omniscient narrators can tell the future as well as the past, she seems to be saying. This is a truth universally denied, by writers and readers in the mode of realism, because it draws attention to the artifice of the form, but it is perhaps one of the points Madden wishes to make. This is a novel with a disarmingly simple surface but more than one intriguing layer. It is a book of questions.

Apart from the major dramatic event, the banking crisis, which is set two years later than the narrative, little of any great moment happens. The Buckleys, unaware that they are the playthings of invisible financial gods, go about their comfortable lives. They cook, catch the Dart, call on their relatives, visit the zoo and go shopping (quite a lot: the novel, although mainly filtered through Fintan’s eyes, paints a detailed, essentially feminine map of Dublin; it’s good on clothes). In short, like many people, they measure out their lives in new frocks and coffee spoons, to paraphrase a line by the poet who supplies the title and theme of the novel. Thanks to Madden’s skill, and her respect for her characters, her portrayal of their uneventful lives is not deadly dull, as it might be in the hands of a lesser, or less compassionate, writer. It is enthralling.

Fintan has one extraordinary trait: he is a seer. He has occasional visions, in which he sees pictures of the future and of the past overlaying what he is observing in the present. These scenes present themselves to him like photographs, and one of his interests is the history of early colour photography. This could be interpreted as a metaphor for fiction, which – like photography – tries to freeze and immortalise the fluid thing that is time. And, just like Fintan, novelists envisage or imagine the past and the future.

Such philosophical and metafictional concerns provide the more exciting strands of the novel, but the surface is interesting too, even though there is a sense in which Madden’s novel is an example of anti-narrative literature. It seems to deliberately snub fiction’s conventions. It more or less dispenses with drama, and it drifts sleepily into life with a laconic opening line (rather like Howards End): “Where does it all begin? Perhaps here, in Baggot Street . . . It seems as good a place to start as any.”

Even the prose is careful not to draw attention to itself. Initially the writing seems too spare, even flat; gradually one appreciates how alive it is. Is the writer questioning the value of fiction itself? Refuting EM Forster’s famous reluctant acceptance that “oh dear, the novel tells a story”? There is precious little in the way of dramatic story in this book. Oh dear. And yet it is full of everyday tales, simply told, and they are more than enough.

Elegantly written, deeply reflective and beautifully shaped, this rich and luminous novel is more daring than it seems. It is an understated little masterpiece.

Éilís Ní Dhuibhne’s most recent book is The Shelter of Neighbours. She teaches creative writing at the School of English, Drama and Film, University College Dublin.

Book Title: An Englishwoman in New York

ISBN-13: 978-1848548312

Author: Anne-Marie Casey

Publisher:John Murray

Guideline Price: Sterling13.99

This book is about four women living in New York, struggling to balance personal and professional lives, facing break-ups and breakdowns, while learning the virtues of female friendships, sound familiar? Yes, it definitely does, and Anne-Marie Casey’s debut novel, An Englishwoman in New York, is a watered-down version of its momentously more brazen and ambitious predecessors. When Lucy’s husband loses his job, the family give up their cushy lives in London for a lower-paid position and more modest existence in Manhattan. This fresh start forces Lucy to examine her life after nearly 10 autopilot years of “supervising” the nanny, housekeeper and two children. In the process she rekindles an old ambition and befriends three women: Julia, a successful television producer who struggles to balance career ambitions with marriage and motherhood; Christy, the unfulfilled penthouse wife of an older, wealthy man; and Robyn, the outsider who works two jobs to support her husband and children. Casey recounts eye-glazing tales of midlife highs and lows from each woman’s perspective in a disjointed, chopped-up narrative. Ever-dependable New York, disappointingly, doesn’t get the starring role the title suggests. It’s all a bit timid and dull. end


The Help   by Kathryn Stockett

The Help is the phenomenal international bestseller by Kathryn Stockett. Enter a vanished and unjust world: Jackson, Mississippi, 1962. Where black maids raise white children, but aren’t trusted not to steal the silver…There’s Aibileen, raising her seventeenth white child and nursing the hurt caused by her own son’s tragic death; Minny, whose cooking is nearly as sassy as her tongue; and white Miss Skeeter, home from College, who wants to know why her beloved maid has disappeared. Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny. No one would believe they’d be friends; fewer still would tolerate it. But as each woman finds the courage to cross boundaries, they come to depend and rely upon one another. Each is in a search of a truth. And together they have an extraordinary story to tell.

“Kathryn Stockett’s The Help made me cry in several public places this autumn. But actually, for a book about the emotive topic of black nannies raising the children of their white employers in early-1960s Mississippi, it’s subtly done. Stockett neither demonises anyone nor resorts to cheap tear-jerking. Not since Allan Gurganus’s Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All have I read such an interesting study of the mistress-maid relationship.”

Book Title: Rod: The Autobiography

ISBN-13: 978-0099574750

Author: Rod Stewart

Publisher: Arrow

Guideline Price: Sterling 7.99

As ROD STEWART, prepares to play the RDS Dublin on Saturday June 29th 2013, I thought I would bring you news of his autobiography, after this read you may be singing, I am Sailing…

Still don’t believe blondes have more fun? After reading this rollicking memoir you’ll wish you had dyed your barnet, joined a rock’n’roll band and dated a string of beautiful women (most of them, coincidentally, blonde as well). Stewart’s new album, Time, his first self-penned album in 20 years, recently went to number one, so now’s as good a time as any to catch up on his life and loves (women, music, football, not necessarily in that order).

Stewart spins his yarn with the easy-going style of a street hustler: his apprenticeship in the 1960s London blues scene, singing with Long John Baldry and The Jeff Beck Group; balancing a successful solo career with his job fronting The Faces in the 1970s; the megastar excesses (he and Ronnie Wood were early aficionados of the “cocaine suppository”); his thyroid-cancer scare of the early 2000s; his resurgence as a gritty interpreter of American standards; and, finally, winning his battle against writer’s block. Plus, of course, lots and lots of ladies, including his former loves Alana Hamilton, Britt Ekland, Kelly Emberg and Rachel Hunter, and his current wife, Penny Lancaster. There’s an entire chapter devoted to his hair, another to his love of cars and even one to his obsession with model railways. What a geezer.

Hankering after something vanished

The thoughtful, ambitious poems in Leanne O’Sullivan’s new collection bring the past to life.


Townland, the opening poem of The Mining Road (Bloodaxe, £8.95), is a brilliant example of the way Leanne O’Sullivan can conjure distance and intimacy as she returns to images of the past. It begins with what seems like a straightforward if unusually assured invocation of a particular place:

A hankering in the skull, uttered and worked,

the stagger of heather beds cleaved in the throat;

Gorth and Ahabrock, and in the old stone walls

the swallows going like windborne rumours.

For three lines O’Sullivan stays with the grounded sound of “hankering”, and its hard K sounds, before reaching for the long O and sibilance of “old stone walls / the swallows going”, a shift in sound pattern that reflects the way the poem itself hankers after something that vanishes before it can be fully grasped or understood. At this point the poem changes direction, turning away from a simple snapshot depiction of place and following instead the “windborne rumours”.

Now, as she will do in many poems in this impressive book, O’Sullivan reveals something else: that this hankering itself might be what is desired, that the place or townland would have no meaning anyway without this feeling for it. The poem ends in “the roofless village a thousand times passed, / and beyond, the waning lift and turn of a gate, / the fall of banked moss, and all of us listening”. As in the opening lines, O’Sullivan gives us the place, but then in addition she gives a name to the kind of attention that brings that place to life.

Here and elsewhere in The Mining Road O’Sullivan shifts away from the kind of “topographical” poetry of place that has become common in Irish writing, choosing instead to locate the place’s meaning in “all of us listening”. O’Sullivan repeatedly presents us with objects or places, which then act not as statements of arrival or recovery but as points of departure.

Things we have seen before, often in other people’s poems, come alive again in her hands: grandmothers, antiques, emigrant parcels and, in Puxley Castle, Dunboy , a burnt-out big house, although O’Sullivan’s poem seems to lament not the destruction but the restoration of the castle. The “vaulting birds” and “starlings banking in the eaves” are absent since the ruin was (partially) renovated by a property developer; “Toe the ash” goes the poem’s refrain, before its mysterious close: “I’ll mind an uncle who comes striding / from the fires. Oh boys, says he, / We’re all a sea door down.”

Seamus Heaney’s early books, with their vivid looks at unregarded lives and places, are an obvious reference point for The Mining Road , but her interest in the past and her reclamation of sidelined traditions are slanted through a sure sense of her own imaginative preoccupations. In the title poem O’Sullivan imagines her grandmother, like Penelope in Ithaca, unravelling and reknitting a cardigan again and again, a process O’Sullivan sees thus: “like grass swallowed down a shaft / the wool quivers up again towards her lap”. This surreal image is stunningly reused to describe her mother and grandmother “leading each other where the road winds down, / and carries on, past where they thought it would end”.

O’Sullivan’s poems often find these kinds of places. Where the road should end, she finds a rich underground world whose dark spaces she moves around with familiar ease; the worked-out mine offers paradoxically fruitful material from which she will quarry her poems.

The sequence Man Engine describes the copper mines of Allihies, in west Cork. At the initiative of a local landlord (the Puxley who built Puxley Castle), the mines were worked in the early 19th century, mostly by Welsh and Cornish migrants: it is easy to see the attraction of the material for O’Sullivan, who describes the mineshaft as “the dark / always ascending // and the light / retreating softly”, but this sequence feels barer even as its narrow stanzas and emphatic stresses nicely imitate the work it describes.

A different historical moment is the subject of the outstanding Safe House , which reflects on the War of Independence: a child’s discovery of an on-the-run IRA man’s gun leads to a tragic misadventure that is erased even as it is told: “There was never a map that could lead back to / or out of that place, foreknown or imagined, / where the furze, the dark-rooted vetch, turned / over and over with the old ground and disappeared.”

This stanza seems to declare the insufficiency of maps, and by extension any writing that impossibly attempts to make up a lost past, but then such a declaration is countered by the force and ingenuity of O’Sullivan’s poem, which does offer a new “map”, one in which a house is made completely unsafe.

The Mining Road is a strong and varied book of poems: it includes lighter moments, a couple of stabs at imagining the future – a cosmic apocalypse mediated by Stephen Hawking – and witty love poems. Its best poems, however, are slow and concentrated pieces that register with great clarity the mystery of stories and images that exercise power over us, images and stories on which readers will dwell.

At a time when historians, novelists and journalists are again revising our national narratives, these thoughtful, ambitious poems bring the past to life, but they also ask if any imagination of the past, no matter how rich and inevitable it feels, can ever be quite enough.

John McAuliffe’s third collection, Of All Places (Gallery Press), was a Poetry Book Society recommendation in autumn 2011. He codirects the Centre for New Writing at Manchester University, where he also co-edits The Manchester Review.

Book Title: Love Is the Easy Bit

ISBN-13: 978-1844883110

Author: Mary Grehan

Publisher: Penguin Ireland

Guideline Price: Sterling12.99

After 14 years as JP’s wife and 11 as Kate’s mother, affection has turned to habit for Sylvia Larkin, and though she reflects that “love is the easy bit”, her marriage has become “hard work” and motherhood is now “a script I don’t know”. Such doubts are heightened by the reappearance of an old lover, Arthur, who rekindles her long-dead dream of becoming an artist and sends her on a journey through her own and her family’s past hurts. It is a voyage that will ultimately force her to tackle her demons head on and to rebuild her relationships with her husband and daughter. An expert in the healing benefits of the arts, Grehan is not afraid to tackle subjects such as suicide and postnatal depression realistically and sensitively, and her novel will strike a chord with women who feel under pressure to conform to society’s expectation that they be perfect wives and mothers. A sharp, modern and funny debut.

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

During a party at the family farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has escaped to her childhood tree house and is dreaming of the future. She spies a stranger coming up the road and sees her mother speak to him. Before the afternoon is over, Laurel will witness a shocking crime that challenges everything she knows about her family and especially her mother, Dorothy.

Fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress, living in London. She returns to the family farm for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday and finds herself overwhelmed by questions she has not thought about for decades. From pre-World War II England through the Blitz, to the fifties and beyond, discover the secret history of three strangers from vastly different worlds; Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy, who meet by chance in wartime London and whose lives are forever entwined.

Book Title: Making Love

ISBN-13: 978-1848401303

Author: Tom Inglis

Publisher: New Island

Guideline Price: €12.99

There is a manicured house in a village I pass through once a year. Its pristine condition draws the eye, as does the fact that its perfect exterior and gardens have always been extended or redecorated. I presumed the owners to be exceptionally houseproud until a local explained that they had lost a child in a car crash: their ongoing renovation would never be complete; it was their means of coming to terms with grief or keeping grief at bay.

There is no right or wrong way to come to terms with grief. Grief is a landscape without maps, where blind spots of emotional ambushes await, sparked by unexpected triggers. There are libraries of grief manuals that many find useful. For others they could be written in Japanese, because each person who enters there must find their own way out.

Tom Inglis, a sociology professor at University College Dublin, has chosen to map his experience of grief in this brave, often startlingly honest memoir. It deals with the death of his wife, the artist Aileen MacKeogh, from cancer in 2005, and with the entirety of their shared lives from meeting, as teenagers, at a dance in 1969.

Its opening chapters are superbly evocative, yet harrowing, as he brings us into the intensity of their desperate final days together, revealing her essence as a vibrant spirit fighting to savour every second of life, so immersed in the experience of living that almost until the end she refuses to accept the stark evidence that time has run out.

A born organiser, she coped with her terminal condition in three ways. First, by throwing herself headlong into mastering every fact about conventional and alternative treatments and endlessly listing results of blood tests. Second, by incorporating her illness into her art practice, making it part of her life by photographing her ailing body or surroundings. And, third, by refusing to allow disfiguring surgery, clinically induced baldness and wasted limbs to inhibit her femininity and innate sensuality. With all hope gone, and only days to live, she does not ask her husband to pray for some miracle; instead she asks him to lie beside her and, one last time, make love.

It is not easy for them to do so in death’s shadow. But nor was it easy for them, for different reasons, when they were lovestruck teenagers with no private space or access to contraception, or much knowledge of sexuality beyond clues gleaned from the problem page of Jackie magazine.

Inglis’s title seems carefully chosen: during their 36 years together, lovemaking seemed central to their lives in its two meanings. In the physical sense it was almost an act of rebellion in the constrained middle-class south Dublin of cloying respectability they grew up in. But it was also central in the literal sense of making a loving shared space, shaping a relationship that survived the hammer blow of tragically losing a young son.

Inglis chronicles a life similar to many lived by Dubliners of their generation, though Aileen was always an initiator and breaker of conventions: the girl drinking whiskey in pubs where girls were meant to be absent or decoratively demure, the woman always creating new spaces ever since, as a teenager, she created a secret love nest on her father’s land.

Occasionally this reader felt an uneasy line being crossed between intimacy and voyeurism in some personal details about the author’s late wife. I see why they needed to be written; I am less sure why, in some final edit, they didn’t return to the cocoon of memory where no reader can go.

But the book is refreshingly honest in not being a manual about dealing with grief, in providing no answers to the heartache of how, when people truly love, they face the near certainty that one of them will be left to cope with the sense of feeling severed in two.

Inglis brings us into the intimacy of their marriage but places that marriage within the context of a changing society. He is superb on the emotional reticence of his father, who dies after suffering a stroke on a bus where the conductor, mistaking him for a drunk, leaves him sitting slumped against the window for several journeys into town.

It is a harrowing image: a man from a generation too inhibited to speak about their feelings, left staring out a bus window, unable to speak at all. Even if some readers may feel that Inglis says too much about his private life, this is better than being unable to say anything at all.

It should be mentioned that, in addition this very personalised memoir, sociology students will find much to interest them in Inglis’s more academic exploration of grief, in his recent monograph, entitled Love (Routledge Shortcuts, €15.60). But more general readers interested in how Ireland changed during the latter half of the 20th century will be fascinated by how Inglis’s memoir contextualises a deeply private life within a broader picture of Ireland, while always drawing us back to what Anthony Cronin described, in another context, as “a tiny republic of love”.

Yeats queried whether a chestnut tree’s essence was “the leaf, the blossom or the bole”. Inglis’s achievement is to capture his lost wife’s essence in not just one version. There is the indelible ache of her absence, the terror, compassion and closeness of her final illness, but also captured here are all the Aileens who ever existed in a rich though sadly truncated life, stretching back to the 16-year-old Aileen with whom he fell in love.

How to Have a Champagne Wedding on a Bucks Fizz Budget

Stag Party Dublin

Stag Party Dublin

Hen Party Stag Party

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki 

“Hi! My name is Nao, and I am a time being. Do you know what a time being is? Well, if you give me a moment, I will tell you.” Ruth discovers a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the shore of her beach home. Within it lies a diary that expresses the hopes and dreams of a young girl. She suspects it might have arrived on a drift of debris from the 2011 tsunami. With every turn of the page, she is sucked deeper into an enchanting mystery. In a small cafe in Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao Yasutani is navigating the challenges thrown up by modern life. In the face of cyberbullying, the mysteries of a 104-year-old Buddhist nun and great-grandmother and the joy and heartbreak of family, Nao is trying to find her own place and voice. Through her diary she hopes she will find a reader and friend who will finally understand her. A Tale for the Time Being  weaves across continents and decades, and explores the relationship between reader and writer, fact and fiction.

Remembered Kisses brings Irish love poetry and paintings together in a stunning collection.

€ 14.00

Amongst the poets whose work is included are: Seamus Heaney, Louis MacNeice, Thomas Moore and W.B. Yeats.

Each poem is accompanied by a painting by an Irish artist appropriate to the content of the poem. The range of Irish artists is equally impressive, including Jack B. Yeats, Sir John Lavery and Walter Osborne.

The wedding industry in Ireland is booming. More people than ever are getting married and as prices rise, frustrations rise. The reality is that people are getting into serious debt for their big day. This book is the answer.

€ 12.00

Is it possible to have your dream wedding on a reasonable budget? It is now!

Finally, here is the book that will show you how you can stretch that budget. Inspired by her own wedding savings and the new trend in value weddings sweeping Ireland, Sarah Traynor has gathered together this treasure trove of fantastic ideas and saving tips.

Learn the secrets to finding value for money without compromising on style

Discover the amazing wedding bargains to be found online

From flowers to stationery, cakes to cars, to alternative weddings and honeymoons that don’t cost the earth, each chapter is bursting with advice, websites and real life stories

Find expert help throughout, with budgeting advice from Eddie Hobbs, your guide to finding the perfect venue from Georgina Campbell and advice on wine from Paolo Tullio

This is the wedding bible for any couple looking for an advertising-free, frill-free guide to getting married in Ireland without breaking the bank.

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Makiko Sano, Japanese, Sushi Slim, cooking recipes, books, book reviews

Makiko Sano

Makiko Sano

Makiko Sano, a restaurateur, writer and mother of four, who describes her age as 39 plus two, is the best possible advertisement for her food philosophy, which she describes as “virtuous indulgence”.

With her glowing skin, silky hair and slim figure, Sano radiates good health, and she puts it down to the traditional Japanese diet she follows, and has written about in her book, Sushi Slim.

Sano prefers to describe her book as “a Japanese cookbook which introduces healthy foods”, rather than a diet book, but if you are eating her way – making good use of the Japanese staples of rice, miso, wasabi, fish, seaweed and tea – weight loss, or at least maintenance, should follow.

She recommends incorporating five things she calls “diamond ingredients” into the daily diet – ginger for all-round health, nori for healthy hair growth, sesame seeds for a youthful body, vinegar for its fat-busting properties and the citrus yuzu for younger looking skin.

“I eat one of these every day. My grandmother always said that a tablespoon of each would be most beneficial, but I prefer to enjoy eating them without worrying about how much I am taking in. I usually have a teaspoon of yuzu in a dressing or in tea, a teaspoon of ginger with a breakfast drink, sesame with vegetables – and I eat a lot of seaweed at lunchtime.”

She also makes soup with chicken or fish (grouper or salmon), for their immediate skin enhancing benefits. “Usually I see a difference by the next day. I used to have it every evening. My skin became 10 to 15 years younger, softer but firmer, and lifted.”

Food was central to family life when Sano was growing up in Tokyo. “The family all lived in houses on the same plot of land and we ate together every evening; nearly 30 of us in all. Each member took it in turns to prepare the food for this huge family.”

Since moving to the UK to marry her now ex-husband in 1995, Sano has made food her career, first with a catering company, Miss Tamaki, which led to her running the sashimi counter at Selfridges, from where she supplied sushi to Buckingham Palace.

Since 2009 she has had her own business, Suzu, a Japanese restaurant and bar in west London. She also runs sushi classes and, before beginning to teach, she asked a sushi chef, Mr Hama, to train her in the art. His advice was that she should first go to work in a fishmonger, so she spent two challenging years doing so. “It was tough. I cried all the way home on the bus for the first six months. It taught me so much, from sourcing the best fish to filleting and pin boning.”

The recipes in the book are calorie counted, and Japanese-trained dietician Miki Symons contributes three Sushi Slim meal plans, for those wishing to restrict their calorie intake to between 1,300 and 1,700 a day, making it a useful manual for food lovers with an eye on the scales.

The recipes cover sushi and sashimi, through soups and salads, to a wonderful selection of bento-box style lunches, each pegged at 500 calories, and which are so colourful and full of variety that they appear far more indulgent.

Sano does have a weakness when it comes to her diet. “I love sweet and fatty foods, so I have a small amount each day. When I want fatty food, I try to eat it at lunch and only have a bowl of miso soup in the evening, with a lot of vegetables.”

Book Review, Book of the week, Book reviews, Irish books, after the lockout, darran mccann, ancient light, john banville

Book Review

Book Review

While on holidays in Ireland you may wish to enjoy a good book, from time to time Gardiner Street will offer reviews of what are considered decent books. Book reviews will be simple and to the point, we will offer a book of the week, with particular focus on Irish Books and Irish history.

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After the Lockout by Darran McCann

The scene is Ireland, late 1917, and the survivors of the Easter Rising are home from jail. One is Victor Lennon, former tram driver blooded in the Dublin lockout, Citizen’s Army volunteer, GPO survivor, Marxist ideologue and son of a wealthy farmer. It’s November, and Victor believes that Lenin’s recent triumph in Russia is but the first of many victories for the proletariat…Though this is a historical novel, it has something very important to say to us (and something that is worth hearing), in the present, about an institution, the church, that, despite certain recent problems, still has power. And that’s probably the most important virtue of After the Lockout: it has an enemy in its sights and it goes for that enemy, though without becoming shrill or impugning the humanity of the clerical characters. Not enough first books have attitude, but this one definitely does, and that’s rather wonderful.

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Ancient Light by John Banville

The past certainly has a starring role in Banville’s new novel. Ancient Light, his 19th since the story collection Long Lankin was published, in 1970, finds the elderly actor Alexander Cleave writing a memoir about his illicit affair, as a young teenager, with the mother of his best friend, Billy Gray.

As Cleave beavers away in his attic room, his wife is suffering from night terrors that cause her to wander the house searching for their daughter Cass, who died by suicide in mysterious circumstances. Is Cleave’s retreat into a sunny long-ago summer an attempt to escape from this overwhelming grief? If it is, it’s doomed to fail, for when he is invited to play the role of an enigmatic literary critic named Axel Vander in a Hollywood movie, the layers of Cleave’s reality get darker, weirder and more uncertain than ever…

Although technically part of a trilogy with Eclipse and Shroud, Ancient Light stands as a novel in its own, majestic right. It is, it almost goes without saying, ravishingly written and scrupulously observed.

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