Thursday, 16 December 2010


I hope you've all had an enjoyable reading year in 2010. It's been an outstanding year for fiction, I think.

I’ve already contributed to three Books of 2010 features, in The Irish Times, on Horizon (forthcoming) and at The Anti-Room, so I don’t want to repeat myself here. I’m back reading novels with great gusto because I’m writing another one, so I want to recommend two novels I’ve read very recently, both of which came out this year.

Rachel Trezise – Sixteen Shades of Crazy (Blue Door, 2010)

The first is Welsh writer Rachel Trezise’s Sixteen Shades of Crazy. You might know Rachel’s writing from her superb short fiction collection, Fresh Apples for which she deservedly won the £60,000 Dylan Thomas Prize in 2006. Sixteen Shades of Crazy mines similar territory to Fresh Apples: ordinary people in the Welsh Valleys trying to negotiate relationships, family, drug-taking, lack of money and lack of prospects. The book centres on Ellie, a bright, thoughtful young woman who wants more than her ‘went out, got pissed; same shit, different day’ life. Ellie is stuck in all kinds of ruts and her friends are hopeless: bitchy and pathologically selfish hairdresser Rhiannon is funny and nasty. Super Mom Sian is withering away to nothing, inside and out, and nobody notices. Boyfriend Andy, a nice guy, offers Ellie a boring life in the village when she dreams of New York. Then, in walks drug dealer Johnny and he messes up all of their lives.

The chapters switch between the POV of the characters which keeps the pace going and we get to see what’s really going on from everyone’s angle. Basically, the new chief of police has declared war on drugs in Aberalaw but Johnny’s timely arrival to the village means there are drugs available, but at a price, especially for the women.

Sometimes seedy, sometimes hilarious, this is great modern fiction. There is hopelessness, pointless sex, lots of drink and drugs, and a palpable boredom with life. The characters are well drawn especially the lunatic, unpredictable Rhiannon. The book is both tragic and funny and proves Rachel Trezise to be the stunning writer she is.

Martin Malone – The Only Glow of the Day (New Island, 2010)

The other novel I read recently and really enjoyed is Martin Malone’s The Only Glow of the Day which is about the Curragh Wrens – the women who lived as prostitutes and common-law-wives to the soldiers in the Curragh Camp in County Kildare. Martin brought out a short story collection last year, The Mango War, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and he has also written other novels and a non-fiction book about his experiences as a soldier. 

Again the story is told from several points of view, but the main character is Rosanna Doyle, who foolishly believes that a soldier called Johnny wants to marry her. She arrives to the Curragh, expecting his baby, thinking he’ll be thrilled. Needless to say, Johnny can’t be found and Rosanna ends up in a wren’s nest – that is, a hollowed-out furze bush – with a rough band of prostitutes. She makes friends with the women but each woman must look after herself and it’s not long before Rosanna follows their lead to earn money.

The story is a sad one and the novel’s atmosphere is bleak and dark – there is endless rain and disease but all this contributes to recreating the harsh reality of the women’s lives. There are a couple of parallel stories: we follow the work of Richard Tone who has been sent by Charles Dickens to report on the women’s situation; we also see the kindness and greed of James Greaney one of the rangers employed to police the plains. So-called do-gooders – the church and the workhouse – are exposed for their cruelty, which adds a contemporary twist to the story.

The language is beautiful – Martin Malone is gifted at fashioning beautiful imagery and the prose in this book zings with life. Some of his turns of phrase aroused my professional jealousy, I must admit. The story speeds up towards the end with many of the main characters taking decisions that will alter their lives forever and there are some neat twists and surprises that prove satisfying. All in all, a harsh story, beautifully told that will prove rewarding for the lover of quality literary fiction.


Kar said...

You've sold both of them to me. I LOVE when a reliable source recommends great fiction. Roll on the hoildays, cosy by the fire, sipping tea and reading and reading and reading, thanks Nu x


You are most welcome, Kar. Sipping tea!?! I'd wager it'll be wine or prosecco or some such ;)

Jeanne Iris said...

I see dark chocolate, a glass or two of wine, a crackling fire and at least one of these books in my future. Thanks for this, Nuala!


You are speaking my language, Jeanne - dark choc, wine, books...mmmmmmmmm. Perfection.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the Rachel Trezise tip, that sounds like just the kind of book I will enjoy, I ordered "Fresh Apples" too since I am on a short story binge.
The best book I read in 2010 was "One Day" by David Nicholls, even thinking about it makes me tingle.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for recommending these, esp Martine Malones book - it got past me completely - I've a thing for the curragh wrens...(The poet Ann Egan has written wonderfully about them as well) look forward to reading this one. Happy Christmas!


Aidan - you will enjoy, Rachel's work - guaranteed.
Thanks for the David Nicholls tip - I'll look out for it.


Niamh - Martin's book is not long out. I wrote a poem about the Wrens years ago. I think it's in my first collection, not sure, can't remember, and I'm too lazy to go and look :)
Rose Doyle wrote a novel about them years ago too, 'Friends Indeed', but I haven't read it.

Titus said...

Particularly like the sound of the Malone; shall pursue, thanks!

Anna May said...

Hi Nuala, and I wish you a Happy Christmas and a terrific 2011.

My best reads of 2010 were 'One Day' (David Nicholls)and 'On the Other Hand' (Chris Cleave)and my favourite re-reads were 'My Brilliant Career' (Miles Franklin)and 'Ethan Frome'(Edith Wharton).
That's the thing about good books. They endure.

Anna May x

Rachel Fenton said...

Ah, to "arouse professional jealousy" - must read these!

Happy Merry holidays! Good luck with the novel writing there - psyching myself up for another ride of that beastie in the New Year! Need to find new ways of falling anyhow! Chuck your homeless choccies my way please - always hungry!