- 19 Aug 22
Lauded and loved Nenagh man Ryan’s sixth novel centres around Saoirse and four generations of her family on their small-town estate, so small it's not even in Ryan's Nenagh but outside it "in a village that nobody'd ever heard of". Her father is killed off on page two and the language cleverly describes the child’s eye view of the house she then grows up in with her tough mother Eileen, disowned by her own well-off family and working in the bookies' to make ends meet, and Eileen’s ever-present mother-in-law, Mary. As anyone who's even walked past the window of an Irish family home could tell you, these woman all care deeply for one another despite the language they hurl around and the somewhat unlikely relationship between Eileen and Mary is especially strong, united in love for Saoirse lost father.
That being said, the men who are present in this world are somewhat surplus to requirements. "You only get one life, and no woman should spend any part of it being friends with men. That's not what men are for." They're either a bit dim, like Saoirse's paternal uncles Paudie - who gets involved with The 'RA like a right eejit - and Chris, or love-interest Josh - a character who first appeared as a writer in Ryan's Strange Flowers, a book that shares a universe with this one, or they're boo-hiss villians like Eileen's bastard of a brother, Richard, who claims Eileen, "a whore", broke his parents, or they're in and out - quite literally - like the unnamed famous singer who changes the course of Saoirse's life.
The language subtly alters as Saoirse matures, taking in the ups and downs of Paudie and Chris, the Machiavellian machinations of Richard, and the young woman falling in and out of love and welcoming a new member to the household. Ryan’s great skill is to fill in his canvas without the reader noticing the brush strokes being applied, moving characters like Chris’ towny wife Doreen, who never quite fits in, shockingly to the foreground when least expected.
The homespun wisdom becomes a bit too begorrah on occasion - "Aren't we the queerest coven that ever stirred a pot?", "Whatever he was at inside me, he made a hames of my pipework" etc.- but you can forgive that when the rest of the writing is so marvellous, documenting love and loss and happiness and "all the meanness and the sorrow of the world" through the real lives of a family "swaddled in ancient lace, surrounded by love", and working towards a deserved and satisfying ending in prose that moves though the green country towards the blue horizon to frequently take flight.