On January 26th, I attended my very first Over the Edge event with a close friend of mine. We’d always said that we’d go during our undergraduate degree, but never did seem to find the time. The stars seemed to align for us that Thursday – we were both in town for the evening, and we’d already arranged to go for dinner. So, after a swift meal, we made our way to the Galway City Library and quietly entered the children’s section, where readings were already underway.
Over the Edge has been a highlight for the Galway literary community for many years. Founded by Kevin Higgins and Susan Millar DuMars, its aim has always been to serve the literary and writing community in the city and the west of Ireland generally. They run regular events in the library which showcase a featured group of writers, as well as providing a stage for new, up-and-coming, and established writers to share their work in front of a group.
As I had expected, there was an excellent turnout on the night. Chairs lined much of the room, shaded by a large felt tree and various other colourful decorations. These seats had already been filled and so people had tucked themselves in between bookshelves, peeking around to catch glimpses of the speakers at the podium. My friend and I had to stand as inconspicuously as possible beside the librarian’s desk, but eventually we were shepherded to a better spot by one of the librarians.
The night began with readings from a few featured speakers – Seán Gibbons read a section from his latest crime novel, Ferdia Mac Anna entertained the crowd with sections of his memoir, and Terri Metcalfe made her public reading debut with some wonderful poetry pieces. We were also lucky enough to hear pieces read by students of the university’s MA in Writing programme during the open mic section of the evening. The floor then opened up to other speakers, sharing work they were currently working on or had recently published.
Though the event was a celebration of the 20th birthday of Over the Edge, it was also a celebration of the late Kevin Higgins and his work. Speakers had been selected to read some of his poetry, much to the delight of the audience. Many took the opportunity to share personal stories about how they knew him and Susan, or how they had been supported by him in their writing careers. The whole night was a beautiful tribute to him, and to the work he and Susan have done over the years for the Galway literary community.
by Tara O'Malley
Last Friday, literary journal Tolka celebrated the launch of its latest issue at Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop with authors Roisin Kiberd and Brenda Romero, who read from their pieces published in the journal. Tolka’s editors — Liam Harrison, Seán Hayes and Catherine Hearn — have an aim to publish “promiscuous non-fiction”, and the evening at Charlie Byrne’s exemplifies very well what they mean by that.
Born during the pandemic, Tolka has become an important piece in Ireland’s vast literary journal scene, set apart by the passion its editors share for publishing non-fiction that is not easily defined. They decided to take the name from the Tolka river because, as Catherine Hearn explained, the word comes from the Irish “tolga”, which means to overflow, and most of the texts they publish share the quality of stretching the limits of genres.
One of the pieces included in the latest issue of the journal, “What We Share” by Brenda Romero, is an interactive piece of non-fiction in which, in the style of role-playing video games, the reader chooses the path the main character takes from a set of options. The text focuses on real-life stories of women who were sexually trafficked and the choices offered to the reader only reinforce the powerlessness of the character. “How do you find the balance between fiction and nonfiction in a piece?”, Romero was later asked by a member of the public, and the question might as well express the genre-bending nature of the text and much of the spirit of Tolka’s preached “promiscuity”.
The overflowing quality was also much noted when Roisin Kirberd read from the piece published in Tolka’s second issue, “Jeff Bezos Talks to God”, which focuses on the brief minutes the billionaire spent in his spaceship in 2021. The piece is not only a mix of non-fiction, critical commentary, and nonfiction, but also a hybrid in its form: at parts list, essay, story, and article. When discussing with the authors, Liam Harrison quoted Beckett: “form is content, content is form”, and went on to ask Romero and Kiberd about the genesis of their work. The evening at Charlie Byrne’s was a celebration of Tolka’s new issue and a reiteration of it being the place where “the overflow” and the “literary promiscuous” find their place. In an age where we feel compelled to label most things, it is much appreciated to know such a place exists.
by Fernanda Ortega
As you might already know, ROPES is published annually by the students of the MA in Literature and Publishing of the University of Galway. Because of that, each year the journal is looked after by a completely different group of people. The ROPES team of 2023 is multicultural and multilingual, with members from Ireland and around the world. We come from varied backgrounds, but we all are passionate about literature and the arts and have complementary interests within the publishing industry. With this in mind, one of our main goals is to publish an array of works that portrays singular literary voices and perspectives. As a whole, the journal represents an archive of creativity and diversity.
Since publishing is a creative endeavor, we believe it is important to highlight its human nature and that you know who the people are behind ROPES. That’s why we want to introduce ourselves!
Anna Blackburn (she/her)
Hi! I’m Anna and I’m from Chicago, Illinois. I completed my BA in English with Creative Writing at UCD this past year and am so excited to be on the Editorial and Marketing teams for ROPES 2023! My favourite genre to read and watch is dystopian fiction and my favourite author is Victoria Aveyard who wrote the Red Queen series. I love travel, creative writing, concerts, and volunteering with Fighting Words.
Ana García LdeC (she/her)
Hey there! I have a super long name, so I just go as Ana García LdeC. I am from Mexico City, and I’ve also had the opportunity to live in Colombia, the USA, and now Galway. During high school I studied Creative Writing, and went to college in Mexico City to study my BA in English Literature so the Literature and Publishing Master’s at the University of Galway is a perfect fit for me. I am passionate about digital publishing and multimedia storytelling. As for literary genres, my favourites are romance, Victorian, gothic, memoir, modern classics, and popular fiction. The next edition of ROPES has a fantastic new team behind, and I really can’t wait for you to see what we create for you. Twitter: @anagldec.
Alessia Fiorello (she/her)
Hello! I am Alessia and I’m from Bonn, Germany. I completed my BA in English, German, and Comparative Studies this year at the University of Bonn. I am an avid reader and my favourite genres are romance and contemporary fiction. I am excited to be part of the Sales and Marketing team, and I can’t wait for you all to hold this year’s edition in your hands!
Alicia Calvo Hernández (she/her)
Hello, I’m from Madrid, Spain. Just a year ago I was finishing my degree in Journalism and Humanities and working on my final thesis, which was focused on the representation of the home and its intimate and social dimensions in British and Irish contemporary narrative. So, you can say I love houses and literature. Now, since I have had to leave my own house to study this master’s, I’ve made books my home, and I can’t wait to pour this love for literature into ROPES 2023! You can find me on Twitter: @Alicia_CalvoH.
Cassia Blondelot (she/her)
Hi, I’m Cassia. I’m from a tiny village in France, but I moved to Galway a few years back after completing my MA in English Literature and Cultures in Lyon. It’ll be no surprise that I love reading, and I'm fascinated by what languages and translation can tell us about different cultures. I tend to read a bit of everything, from experimental literature to children’s books, although I mostly stick to fiction. I’m thrilled to be a part of ROPES and to get to work on putting great content out there for you to read! You can find me on Twitter: @CassiaBlondelot.
Ciara Harris (she/her)
I’m Ciara and I’m from Halifax, Nova Scotia, which is a very small coastal city in Eastern Canada. I recently completed my BA in English at Saint Mary’s University, and I’m so excited to be serving as the Managing Editor for this year’s ROPES. I love all kinds of literature, but I have a particular interest in short fiction, and my maritime roots definitely come through in my reading choices; I love any story about the ocean, seaweed, salty breezes, you name it! When I’m not reading, you can find me crocheting knick-knacks for my friends and family or exploring local cafés. Reach out to me on Twitter: @ciarak_harris.
Claudia Madden (she/her)
Hey, I'm Claudia! I’m from Athlone, Co. Westmeath and I recently graduated from Maynooth University with a BA in English. Reading has always been a special interest of mine, especially genres such as horror, gothic fiction and sci-fi. My biggest passion is poetry and I wrote my own collection of poetry for my final year creative dissertation. I’m super excited to be a part of both the Editorial and Production and design teamS for ROPES! You can find me on Twitter: @claudiamadden1996.
Fernanda Ortega (she/her)
Hey! I am Fernanda from Mexico. I graduated from a BA in Latin American Literature at Universidad Iberoamericana. I love reading, writing, and travelling, which is why I’m now in Ireland. I love to read literature from all over the world, and right now I am particularly interested in poetry and translation. You can find me talking about all sorts of books on Instagram: @flowersinthelibrary. I’m really happy to be part of this year’s ROPES team and beyond excited for you to read the next issue.
Isabelle Gahan (she/her)
Hi! I’m Isabelle and I’m from Dublin. I have a BA in English and Film from UCD and a Certificate in Creative Writing from Maynooth University. Like my fellow classmates, I have a huge love and passion for reading, and the genres I love the most are fantasy, historical fiction, and anything a bit magical. I spend my spare time writing, making art, and chasing my ginger cat around the house (it’s true, male ginger cats are himbos). I am so excited to be a part of the Editorial team for this year’s edition of ROPES.
Julie Kathrine Steen Paulsen (she/her)
Hi there, I am Julie. I come from the lovely city of Trondheim, Norway. I have a BA in English Literature from the Norwegian University NTNU, a semester of South American Literature from UNSAM (Buenos Aires), and four years of law school from the University of Bergen. I am planning to write my legal MA thesis on international copyright upon graduating from UG. I have an eternal love for the classics, especially modern American and English gothic fiction, but I have more recently developed an interest in international literature. I am looking forward to contributing to this year’s edition of ROPES as part of both the Editorial and the Sales and Marketing teams.
Katherine Therrien (she/her)
I’m Katherine, or Katie for short! I’m from Boston, Massachusetts, USA, although I’ve spent a lot of time in Scotland. I have a BA in Literature and History from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and an MA in Creative Writing from Edinburgh Napier University. I am a writer as well as a reader and, as a part of the editorial team, I love finding new and daring stories—be they experimental, genre, or personal essays!
Kiki Andrews (she/her)
Hi! I’m Kiki and I’m from Rotterdam in the Netherlands. I completed my BA in Language and Culture Studies with a specialisation in English literature in an intertextual perspective at Utrecht University. I am passionate about the representation of women in books and other stories. As for literary genres, I tend to read a bit of everything, but mostly enjoy contemporary fiction. I am so excited to be serving as Assistant Managing Editor for this year’s ROPES and can’t wait for you to see the 31st edition!
Mariana Denisse Morales Hernández (she/her)
Hi! I’m Mariana from Mexico City. I completed my BA in English with a specialisation in translation at Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, UNAM. I love all kinds of books, but I am most interested in contemporary poetry, women’s writing, cross-genre writing, and translations. Give me a text that works with images of water, colours, or food—my second passion in life is eating—, and I’ll be obsessed with it for an indefinite amount of time. I’m beyond excited to be a part of the Editorial and Production and Design teams for ROPES 2023! You can find me on Twitter: @marianaden_.
Michaela Shaw (she/her)
Hi there! I’m Michaela and I’m from Sligo. I completed my undergraduate in English and History at the University of Galway just this past year. I have always been an avid reader and writer, and I’m particularly interested in the more unique and avant-garde forms of the arts. I am very proud to be serving as this year’s Sales and Marketing Lead and I am so excited for my team and I to work on some really great events and content for you all.
Olivia Long (she/her)
Hi! I’m from Charleston, South Carolina, and recently completed my undergraduate degree in Publishing at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. I am so thrilled to be serving as ROPES Editorial Lead this year and to work with such a creative and talented team. As to be expected, I’m very passionate about reading, and enjoy reading fantasy, science fiction, and horror series in my free time. I also adore Greek mythology, and my current favourite author is Madeline Miller.
Rachel Cahill (she/her)
Hi! I’m Rachel and I am from a village called Bree in Wexford. I have a BA in English and Digital Methods and Data Literacy from UCD and a professional certificate in Editorial Fashion Styling at the Dublin Institute of Design. I am passionate about fashion, culture, and reading. I act as the creative director and editor of online magazine VAPID, pushing against the stigma for those who simultaneously enjoy engaging with current worldly topics and fashion. I am excited to be working on the sales and marketing team this year! I frequently read fantasy novels. I love cats. You can find me on @theonlyraquelle and www.vapidmagazine.com.
Regina Zavala Corona (she/her)
Hi there, I’m Regina. I’m from Guanajuato, Mexico. I graduated this year with a BA in English Literature. As expected, I love books and my favourite genres include fantasy, romance, gothic fiction, and of course, the classics. I am excited to be part of both the Editorial and the Sales and Marketing teams. Can’t wait for you to see this year’s edition of ROPES!
Róisin Cremin (she/her)
Hi, I’m Róisin. I’m from Mallow, Co. Cork and have recently graduated with a BA in German Studies and Music at Mary Immaculate College. Having studied German for my undergrad, I have a particular interest in translation. Along with translated works, my favourite genres to read are contemporary fiction, romance, literary fiction, and fantasy. I like to write poetry in my spare time and post book reviews on a number of online platforms. I am very excited to be working on ROPES this year as part of the Editorial and Sales and Marketing teams, and I cannot wait for you all to see what we have planned!. You can find me on instagram/twitter: @somethingarosie.
Shannon Kelly (she/her)
Hello, I’m Shannon Kelly! I completed my undergraduate degree at University of Galway in 2021, with a BA in Children’s Studies. In addition to my BA, I have successfully completed higher diplomas in early childhood care from UG and marketing communications from UCD. I have a passion for children’s literature and a great interest in digital illustration. I am delighted to be the Production and Design Team Lead for ROPES 2023 and to have the opportunity to work with the amazing team.
Hi! I’m Sinéad, and I’m from Killarney, County Kerry. I graduated from UCC with a Bachelors in English in 2021! I love reading and writing, and particularly love theatre and poetry. I am very excited to be part of this year’s Marketing and Sales team for ROPES. You can find me on twitter: @sineadbart.
Tara O’Malley (she/her)
Hi! I’m Tara. I’m from Connemara, Co. Galway and have recently graduated from a BA in Creative Writing, English and Classics at the University of Galway. I’m fluent in both English and Irish. I’m passionate about writing and reading, which is why I’m very excited to be a part of the ROPES Editorial team this year. I love to read poetry, creative non-fiction, and all types of fiction, but particularly anything inspired by mythology and folklore. You can find me on Twitter: @taranimhaille.
Valeria Cecilia Barbon (she/her)
Hey there! I’m Valeria from Italy. I have a BA and an MA in English and Russian Literature and Languages from Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan. I am an avid reader (and a food enthusiast): I read pretty much anything, from classics to fantasy. I am so excited to be involved in both the Production and Design and Editorial teams to shape this beautiful publication, and I can’t wait for you guys to enjoy it!
Mark your calendars! The 4th of April brings about the start of the Cúirt International Festival of Literature, a highly anticipated event for book lovers. Before you buy your tickets, ROPES members Sheridan Pena and Mariah Inman share their most highly anticipated events taking place next week and why they think you should swing by.
Heroes and Villages: A. K. Blakemore, Jan Carson and the Power of the Mob
Wednesday 6th April at 8:30 pm - Town Hall Theatre
I personally love reading about dystopian societies and have recently become enamoured with historical fiction so this event is a must-see for me. I cannot wait to hear the conversation between two wonderful storytellers such as Jan Carson and A. K. Blakemore.
Leave the World Behind: Rumaan Alam in Conversation
Thursday 7th April at 8:30 pm - Town Hall Theatre
How far can you trust a stranger? This is the central question in Rumaan Alam's book Leave the World Behind. I'm looking forward to this event as I'm sure it'll push me beyond my typical way of thinking (Plus the Netflix adaptation of the book will star Julia Roberts so this basically has her seal of approval).
It's About the Journey: Danny Denton and Claire-Louise Bennett
Saturday 9th April at 4:00 pm - An Taibhdhearc
Another go-to of mine is books that focus on a character's mental journey as much as their physical one. Danny Denton and Claire-Louise Bennett focus on this phenomenon in their novels, and I won't be able to resist attending this event.
The Sound of Paradise: Raymond Antrobus and Roger Robinson
Saturday 9th April at 8:30 pm - Town Hall Theatre
Poetry is a relatively unfamiliar genre to me, but I always wish to become more familiar with it. Even with my lack of knowledge on the subject, I recognized the names of Raymond Antrobus and Roger Robinson and knew I had to go see these two powerhouse poets.
Staying In: Will McPhail in Conversation
Sunday 10th April at 2:00 pm - An Taibhdhearc
I took one look at the cover of In and knew I had to read it. The exquisite graphics drew me in, and the writing style hooked me completely. I will be severely disappointed if I do not get to meet the author behind this book.
Cúirt Zine Fair
Friday 8 April 12 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. - The Cornstore
Saturday 9 April 12 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. - The Cornstore
Sunday 10 April 12:30 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. - The Cornstore
If you are an art hoe like me who loves to support local artists and independent presses, I highly recommend taking a peek at the zines*, prints, and comics that will be for sale at the Cúirt Zine Fair. The fair is free to attend, however, I highly recommend throwing down some handsome cash at the first zine you fall in love with.
*A zine is a self-published leaflet or booklet with original or appropriated art.
Staying In: Will McPhail in Conversation
Sunday 10 April 2 p.m. - An Taibhdhearc
As an avid fan of graphic novels that prick at the heartstrings, I am a sure-fire supporter of Will McPhail’s debut novel In. The novel made me laugh, cry, and reconsider my everyday life choices. You will find me clutching his book at this event as he explains the inspiration behind his novel.
Of course, we can’t forget to mention the launch of the ROPES Literary Journal! This event will be held on April 6th at 4:00 pm in An Taibhdhearc, and entry is free for everyone. Make sure to come by if you want to engage in exciting literary chats and hear the contributing writers speak about their work. We can’t wait to see you all there!
On a random Wednesday afternoon in the typical pouring rain of Galway, I ran into the first cafe that would let me take cover. Luckily for me, I happened upon my new favourite cafe in town. Hidden within Dominick Street, Rouge waits unassuming for its next happenstance with another cafe-reading-lover.
Upon first glance, the restaurant looks like just another pub, with its black paint and red-coloured logo on the building. Honestly, with its outside looks, one can assume it would be synonymous with The Front Door, O’Connell’s Bar, or Monroe’s Tavern.
However, once I stepped foot into Rouge I was transported into a romantic cafe tucked within the cliffs of Normandy, France that I visited less than ten years ago.
As I made my way through the entryway, my eyes followed the ceiling which curled itself around the jagged stone walls. I let my eyes follow the rocks to rest upon the walnut leather sofas and candlelit tables that longed to be filled with the buzz of people.
“Bonjour, comment ça va?" A woman’s voice called from beside me as another woman seeking asylum from the heavy downpour feasted her eyes upon the immaculate vibes of this underrated cafe.
Side note: You don’t need to know or speak French to
go here, however, the baristas openly speak it, so if you want to sharpen up on
your French, are a native French speaker, or are just sick of speaking English,
don’t be afraid to talk to them in French.
I turned to the till to see two baristas greeting me
behind a bar filled with fresh pastries, quiches, and other French cuisines.
Not only is the coffee good, but the cafe offers free Wi-Fi
for those who want to plant themselves in one place to study for hours on end.
I know I’ll be found on the couches, catching up on Suzanne Young’s Program series that I’ve been addicted
to these past few weeks.
With the turbulence of 2021 behind us, its the perfect time to look back, reflect and wonder how we managed to get through it. The confusion of restrictions being lifted and re-instated, of never knowing what the next week will bring, left us all needing a safety net to get us through it. The one thing we would turn back to because we knew that getting lost in it would make everything else seem tolerable. Today some of the ROPES team members are sharing the little indulgences and obsessions that got them through 2021.
Joyce’s Real Housewives remedy:
When my Dad, the ruler of the TV remote, started working late shifts during the lockdown, my mother, sister and I could indulge in the TV that he wouldn’t have put up with - The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. We watched women in extravagant outfits throw drinks, lie to each other, recover from addiction, and sometimes go on trial for embezzlement. And of course, the ridiculousness of this likely made us forget about the worries of our own lives. Often, an episode would be followed by a debriefing session where we would decide whose side we were on and what we would have said in any given argument - we were completely drawn in by the spectacle of it all.
I often hear people categorise television in two ways; shows that they think are genuinely good, and shows they watch because their brain can’t tackle anything that requires much of them. During a draining 2021, I think the latter has grown more popular. But I also think it’s possible for a TV show to straddle both categories. Reality TV knows its place as a provider of comedy, lavishness, and drama and if it achieves what it sets out to, like The Real Housewives franchise has done, then you can’t deny its value. The Real Housewives has created characters and storylines that, to me, are comparable with the television greats. I have never encountered a better villain than Lisa Rinna or a better underdog than Kim Richards. If you have seen the Amsterdam dinner party scene, you know it’s comparable to Shakespeare. And Lisa Vanderpump’s Season 5 tagline; “Throw me to the wolves and I shall return leading the pack” should have received an award. The show is unapologetic and uncompromising and demands to be taken seriously within its genre.
I no longer live with my family but we still discuss The Real Housewives at length together. During a difficult year, the show brought me much needed comfort and laughs, drama when my life was lacking in it, and something to get excited about with friends and family who loved it too. It also made me into a staunch advocate of reality TV. Clearly.
Liam’s MARVELous movie obsession:
So, celebrity culture is kind of terrible. I know what type of cereal Adele eats every morning. Joe Rogan has stolen all of my friends and he won’t give them back. Chet Hanks terrifies me. Celebrities are a blight. I hate them.
But – and there’s always a but…
I don’t know Mr Garfield personally, but do I love him? Yes.
Do I kind of wish we were best friends? Also yes.
The pandemic has changed me. And not in an interesting way. I came out of this lockdown with no cool new hobbies. I’m terrible at carpentry (Andrew can build rocking chairs), I still don’t know how to play the piano (Andrew plays beautifully), and I’m still the same height (Andrew is taller than me if you include the hair).
Some people worked on themselves during the pandemic. I watched The Amazing Spider-Man 26 times. Do you want to know what I watched last night? The Amazing Spider-Man. That was a stupid question. You already knew the answer.
I’ve never been great at expressing my feelings, but I decided to write a poem which I hope articulates my obsession (that’s a very strong word, maybe I’ll change that to ‘fondness’) a bit better.
Shall I compare thee to summer’s day?
Except you have hair
Really nice hair
I think I want to be you
How does your hair do that?
I don’t know how this happened. I don’t want to be obsessed with him, but I am. And I know some of you are too, you little freaks.
But you know what, after everything that’s happened over the last two years, we deserve our happiness wherever we can find it, we deserve a bit of light in all this darkness. We deserve Andrew Garfield
Yashika’s tea treatment:
My secret to happiness is made of four things: milk, water, sugar and leaves. Chai, my companion through times rough and smooth. No matter what mood I am in, a cup of adrak-wali-chai (ginger tea) will clear all the fuzz out of my brain and make life peaceful and calm. It is almost like meditation for me now. There is something so reassuring about the fact that everything in my life can change in an instant, but chai will be beside me through it all.
Megan’s bookish break:
Last summer, with the help of an amazing friend who is always on call with book recommendations, I read the fantasy trilogy Shades of Magic by V.E. Schwab. She knew I was going to devour these books. I grew up on this genre, living in magical worlds, but I hadn’t visited in a long time.
Diving into the parallel Londons and getting to know would-be-pirate Lila, and morally-conflicted Kell and the rest of Schwab’s brilliantly painted characters brought me back to a special kind of joy. It got me to go back to my reading roots and allowed me to fully escape into another time and place for a while without holding back.
Apart from the beauty of the book itself, there is that specific bond you develop with a friend who gives you a book and lets you unapologetically text them scores of messages whenever something shocking or racy or hilarious happens. At those times, I felt acutely the significance of the books writers gift us and the friends who bring them to our attention.
Isabel’s Love Island getaway:
In June, most of my friends and I finished our undergrads. Soon after, a lot of them moved away. We went from being together in little Galway for four years, terminally involved in each other's lives, to being splintered across Europe. Only a couple of us remained here and we - the stragglers - found ourselves stuck for things to do, not knowing how to spend the long, bright evenings now that we could no longer bask in the act of simply being surrounded by company. Only one thing was capable of patching up our loneliness and bittersweet independence, and that was Love Island. Each night, we would rush home from our service industry jobs, stopping in Spar on the way to pick up an overpriced bottle of craft beer, and hop on the couch just in time to hear Virgin Media’s 9 pm answer to the Angelus: Ian Stirling saying “TONIGHT, ON LOVE ISLAND”. Being able to sit down for an hour every night to hear British twenty-somethings say the same thing over and over again, watching them lick their wine glasses so that their lipstick wouldn’t leave a mark, and wondering if any of them were having a sneaky cigarette off-camera released enough dopamine to numb the strangeness of that summer for me. This year, when I’ll have finished my MA and when even more of my friends will have left this town for good, I can’t wait to use the show as a coping mechanism all over again.
Can you think of anything better than wrapping yourself up in a soft blanket, a mug of hot cocoa in hand and a heavy book in your lap? We know we can’t. Here are some books ROPES member Alison Rizzo would recommend for when venturing outside into the cold isn’t appealing.
The Secret History by Donna Tart
Our protagonist, Richard, meets a group of classics students in a remote university in New England; what could possibly go wrong? Somewhere in between mystery, thriller, and a tale of wasted youth lies this gripping novel. Set during a snowy winter at Hampden College, this chilling story will show you what happens when the lines of morality are blurred by a fog of debauchery. For the academics out there, this is the perfect novel to set the mood for a long winter of studying.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
No list of winter reads would be complete without a Russian novel or two. Tolstoy’s work transports the reader to the wintery world of 19th century Russia where we meet Anna Karenina, a heroine who is sick of her empty existence as the wife of Alexei Karenin. She embarks on a dangerous affair with the handsome, young army officer Count Vronsky. Tolstoy’s acute insight into human nature gives Anna Karenina some of the most memorable characters in literature, each written with Tolstoy’s characteristic depth and knowledge of human nature.
The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Set in the Russian wilderness lies a story full of magic and intrigue. This novel makes you feel like you’re sitting by the fireplace, being told an ancient tale by a beloved grandmother. The story follows Vasilisa, a girl who grows up listening to her nurse’s fairy tales with her siblings. As she grows up, the household spirits which were once revered by all are no longer respected, causing danger to unfold. Vasilisa is forced to enter a world of nightmares and defy her loved ones in order to protect them from harm. This novel is the perfect read to awaken your inner child and re-immerse yourself in the enchanting, yet delightfully dark, world of fairy tales.
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Don’t let the name of this book fool you, this isn’t your typical cosy Christmas read. Vida, a novelist who is just as famous for the mystery of her missing thirteenth story as for her published works, is finally willing to divulge the secrets of her past. She chooses Margaret for the task, a biographer who sees a curious parallel between the pain of her own past and Vida’s mysterious one. This novel is a love letter to storytelling and the art of writing, a perfect read for the booklovers among us.
This week we’re diving into the world of
book festivals with our own Kasandra Ferguson! Read on to experience the Dublin
Book Festival for yourself and find out about the major events and themes that
stood out this year.
Dublin Book Festival
Late last month was a wrap on the annual Dublin Book Festival, which operated with a mixture of live and online events, all captivating in their own right. The Smock Alley Theatre was the central hub for most of the week, but Dublin at large was explored. There were activities taking place at the Chester Beatty Library, National Botanic Gardens, and Dublin Port Heritage Center, all woven together by walking and boat tours around the city. (My favorite outing was the sketching session at Chester Beatty with Róisín Curé to celebrate her new book, Dublin in Sketches and Stories.) The various seminars featured a slew of both established and new authors, including President Higgins himself, who attended to discuss his new book, Reclaiming the European Street: Speeches on Europe and the European Union, 2016-20. A few trends stood out most strongly amidst the festival, all of which bode well for the direction of the Irish literary scene. Check out the program from this year to see the full list of writers and published works - you’re bound to find something you’ll love!
This year’s festival shined a light on a variety of authors and their stunning works, including pieces like the new anthology Queer Love by contributors including Emma Donoghue and Neil Hegarty, Diverse Republic by Melatu Uche Okorie, and Unsettled by Rosaleen McDonagh - a truly arresting collection of essays, and a personal recommendation of mine. These writers brought attention to topics ranging from the LGBT+ community, Travellers’ rights, and immigration to ableism and the female experience in Ireland throughout the past century. Small presses in Ireland have been pushing for a more inclusive selection on bookstore shelves - particularly Skein Press, the publisher of Unsettled and one of the main sponsors of Play It Forward (in conjunction with The Stinging Fly, one of Ireland’s top literary journals). The initiative allows for a diverse group of emerging writers to be mentored by more experienced authors such as Lucy Caldwell and Cauvery Madhavan. The collective experience over the course of the festival inspired an immense amount of passion, inspiration, and, pointedly, hope for the arts scene in Ireland.
Irish language, history, and mythology
Carrying throughout the festival was a strong, clear push to promote works which focused on the Irish language, history, and mythology. One of the earlier events was an online launch of It Rose Up: A Selection of Lost Irish Fantasy Stories, an anthology of oft-overlooked, darkly humorous folktales. The collection is edited and introduced by Jack Fennell, who gushed about his adoration for such quirky horror stories and unsettlingly fun myths. Soon after, audiences were given a chance to listen in to a conversation with Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin - a novelist, children’s author, guitarist and singer, screenwriter, and publisher - to discuss his life and work. A pillar in the arts community, he’s contributed significantly to the revival of Irish language media, having written several awarded novels in it for example. Moving to more sweeping tales, Jo Kerrigan spoke about her new novel, Stories from the Sea, which lovingly recounts many of the legends developed around Ireland’s existence as an island nation. Occurring at the Dublin Port Heritage Center, it was easy to be transported out to the waves by Kerrigan’s stories. Peppered throughout the week were stunning seminars on real-life history, including one of my favorite’s, ‘Ireland 1922: Women in Independence, Debate, and Civil War,’ which used Diarmaid Ferriter’s new book Between Two Hells: The Irish Civil War as a launching pad for riveting discussion on women’s roles in independence, debate, and conflict. Altogether, the festival highlighted the unyielding insurgence of writers, artists, academics, and more dedicating themselves to revitalising popular interest in Irish culture.
Promotion of local libraries and independent bookshops
This seems like an easy one, but if there are any day-to-day topics that remain crucial to members of the literary scene (particularly in a country like this, which houses a variety of hearty small presses and independent sellers), they are: support your local libraries and buy from indie bookshops. Seriously. Every seminar in Smock Alley Theatre let out afterwards into the charming alley behind the building, where it was almost too easy to grab a quick coffee from The West End and wander into The Gutter Bookshop for a signed copy of the speakers’ books. All of which I did, on five occasions. My duffel bag was significantly heavier on the trip home. Regardless, the best way to promote a vibrant, thriving literary scene, brimming with all of the complex, culturally rich qualities mentioned above, is to keep it local. For our Galway readers: Charlie Byrnes is just a stroll away.
The Dublin Book Festival is one of many arts festivals taking place throughout the country, so find the one’s happening near you in the future - those behind the scenes are always looking for support and fresh audiences, and I know you’re always looking for a new book to read.
So many exciting things
have been happening this fall in Galway. Halloween, the setting up of the
Christmas market, the approach of finals…yikes, maybe let’s ignore that for
now. While I know we’re all simultaneously excited about Christmas and dreading
the start of December exams, let’s put all of that on pause for a moment and look
back at one of the major highlights of November. ROPES member Yashika Sharma is
here to take a look back at the festival of Diwali and guide us through its
Diwali, more than just a Festival of Lights
This is an experiment for everyone out there: Whenever you meet an Indian on the street, ask them, “What is Diwali?” It is a major possibility that they will respond with: “Diwali is a festival of lights!”
And they are not wrong! It is the festival of lights celebrated by Hindus. Diwali today is all about candles, lights, crackers, and sweets. Many understand it as the day when we pay homage to Gods and Goddesses, inviting them to our homes, thus signifying wealth and prosperity. However, the origin story of Diwali stems from the Indian epic Ramayana.
Ramayana relates the story of Lord Rama and his triumph over the evil King Ravana. Ravana kidnaps Goddess Sita, Rama’s wife, and takes her to his kingdom, which is situated in today’s Sri Lanka. Rama, along with his brother Lakshmana, takes an army full of monkeys and their King to fight the mighty Ravana. His divinity and archery skills become Ravana’s doom, killing each member of his family one by one, and then finally destroying Ravana. Rama then takes Sita back to his kingdom, Ayodhya. In the celebration of the return of their king and queen, citizens of Ayodhya lit oil lamps all over the city. This is the significance of using oil lamps called ‘diyas’ during Diwali festival.
Why were the oil lamps lit, you ask? Because it was the new moon. Therefore, the date for Diwali differs each year.
Ramayana: The importance of the book
It is said to be auspicious to have a copy of Ramayana at your home. The mythological tale has multiple themes that must be inculcated in day-to-day living to have an ideal life and become an ideal human being. Ramayana is centered around Lord Rama, who is considered to be the icon of ‘dharma’ (duty). Throughout the tale, there are multiple occasions where, as a reader, you might disagree or wonder why Rama decides something or acts the way he does. But the book is clear: “Rama will follow his duty, and so should you.”. This is what Ramayana teaches us; make sure that you are righteous, and follow your duty, even if that means that you have to suffer yourself. While this notion has changed in today’s world, with the importance of personal health and self-love becoming central to our life, honouring our duties towards our family, friends and the world around us sure is fulfilling.
On Diwali, every family comes together, prays to the Gods for health and prosperity, and enjoy the festival together. In Ramayana, we witness the love between brothers Rama and Lakshmana. Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita spent 14 years of exile, living in the woods, without any luxury. It is said that during these 14 years, Lakshmana did not sleep and stood guard over his brother and sister-in-law. When Lakshmana laid injured on the battlefield, Rama’s tears and words for his brother are so moving that you can’t help but shed some of your own. To look at Ravana’s end, we see his brother Kumbhkarana giving his own life, even though he believed that Ravana’s ego has taken him to the path of doom. In contrast, two brothers, Vibhishana and Sugriva, are the cause of their brothers’ death. From this, we learn that it is important to support your family, but it also important to guide them towards the right path.
Triumph of Good over Evil
The most basic trope in all mythological stories: good destroys evil. May it be Zeus and Cronus, Tuatha De Danann and Carman, or Rama and Ravana, we see how good magic always wins over evil. Symbolically, you can take this trope in two ways. First, you might come across a lot of negativity and people that can prove to be toxic in your life. In such a case you need to overcome this by having a positive approach towards life and removing everything evil from it. Second, fighting with your inner inhibitions and winning over them; defeating your dark side. Ravana was said to have 10 heads that symbolized 10 personality traits he had: Lust, Anger, Delusion, Greed, Pride, Envy, Mind, Intellect, Will and Ego. This Diwali, let’s promise ourselves to get over all negative emotions, and stay happy and healthy.
If you would like to read more on Ramayana, here are some recommendations:
1. ‘Maryada’ by Arshia Sattar
2. ‘Sita: An Illustrated Retelling of Ramayana’ by Devdutt Pattanaik
3. ‘The Ramayana: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic’ by R. K. Narayana
4. ‘The Ramayana: A Modern Retelling of the Great Indian Epic’ by Vālmīki, Ramesh Menon
Alright, we are done with Diwali. Alexa, play ‘All I Want for Christmas’ by Mariah Carey.
The air is getting cooler, the days are getting shorter and pumpkin spice is starting to appear in our coffees. Spooky season is in full swing, and what better way to celebrate than by reading a terrifying book?
Luckily for you, ROPES member Liam Maguire has a list of his top 6 books that will scare the sh*t out of you. These picks will be judged on two metrics – how much fun you’ll have reading them and how much they’ll terrify you. Thus, the self-explanatory fun metre and spooky metre.
Let’s get spooky!
Perfectly Preventable Deaths & Precious Catastrophe by Deirdre Sullivan
Why not spend this Halloween season in Ballyfrann? It’s a cosy place, you’ll love it there, really. It has a castle! Castles are cool. What else does it have? Oh, well there’s the blood magic and the long history of girls going missing…oh, and the possible ancient terrors that haunt the town.
This is a series that will make you laugh, cry, and laugh again with ease. Sullivan writes so convincingly that it is hard to believe magic is not real.
These books are perfect for the Halloween season, but don’t be fooled, it gets dark in Ballyfrann. Real dark. There is a lot about family and witchcraft, first loves and teenage summers spent with friends drinking tins. But underneath it all is the horrors of the everyday. Characters are completely broken down and left bereft of themselves, creating an eerie sense of the uncanny throughout the series.
But there is also hope. Without the terrible things the characters endure, they would never be capable of the bravest act of all – being loud when the world expects you to be silent.
Fun Metre: 5/5 Spooky Metre: 5/5
TW: Sexual violence, self-harm.
Earthlings by Sayaka Murata
Reading this book is like staring into the sun – it hurts, and it blinds you, and you know you shouldn’t be doing it, but for some reason you just can’t stop yourself.
I’m not a squeamish person, but I have never tried so hard to actively forget what I had just read immediately after reading it. The overarching theme is similar to Murata’s previous novel Convenience Store Woman, but she takes the idea of societal rejection in a whole new, disturbing direction.
Earthlings is hard to stomach, so I would only recommend it if you’re the type of person who not only likes to watch car crashes in slow motion, but who also likes being involved in said car crashes.
Fun Metre: 3/5 Spooky Metre: 5/5
TW: Sexual violence, self-harm, incest.
A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
Part-thriller, part-metafiction and all terrifying, this book is a breath of fresh air in the tired genre of possession horror.
What is terrifying about A Head Full of Ghosts is just how understated the dread throughout is. What is scary is the idea that horrible things can happen to people who have seemingly done nothing wrong. There are twists throughout and pop culture references – The Exorcist and The Blair Witch Project both get shout outs.
But the most refreshing thing about this book is how Tremblay approaches the delicate subject of possession and treats it with genuine compassion. There are no monsters, not really, and by the end there are no definitive answers. And maybe that’s the scariest thing of all, that there are some things we just don’t know.
Recommended for fans of horror classics who are looking for something new but familiar.
Fun Metre: 4/5 Spooky Metre: 4/5
TW: Self-harm, physical violence.
Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
Have you been personally victimised by Squid Game? Me too. Want to go through it all over again?
Ok, so the premise isn’t exactly the same. Battle Royale is less a parable about capitalism, and more about the control of a totalitarian government. The results, however, are similar – a bunch of teenagers are forced to compete in a game where the goal is to be the last one alive.
The spiritual predecessor to The Hunger Games, Takami’s novel is unrelenting and very, very bloody – a case study on the brutality of humanity. This is perfect for you little freaks out there who enjoy feeling empty inside.
Fun Metre: 4/5 Spooky Metre: 3/5
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
What sort of list would this be without including the Queen of Horror herself? Jackson writes magic, pure and simple. Reading any of her work is like watching a spell being cast in real time. She captures that same feeling you get when you wake up from a dream that you never wanted to end, only to realise you can no longer remember what it was about.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is Jackson at her best. The story centres around Merricat and Constance, sisters and village outcasts who are shunned after a family tragedy of which they and their uncle are the only survivors.
The blood of this book is the unease that flows through every passage and the loneliness that emanates from each page. Hypnotic, crushing and absolutely gorgeous – this is the perfect book to read this Halloween.
So ignore those trick ‘r’ treater’s at your door and tuck yourself in by the fire. Was that creaking coming from the attic? Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll be fine. It looks like it’s going to be a very long night, so why don’t I make you a cup of tea?
Oh no, said Merricat, you’ll poison me.
Fun Metre: 10/5 Spooky Metre: 10/5
We are officially opening our call for submissions!
ROPES is now back for its 30th edition. Yes, you read that right…it’s our 30th edition! The new ROPES team is very excited to be involved in the production of the new edition, and we cannot wait to see what all of you wonderful writers and artists out there have up your sleeves.
Before you get those creative juices flowing, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:
- The word limit for written submissions is 3000 words
- Art and photography submissions must be 300 PPI+
- Only previously unpublished works will be accepted
- A maximum of 3 pieces per submission is allowed
We cannot wait to see what you have in store for us this year! Keep an eye on our blog, where we’ll be posting writing tips, reading recommendations and other content to help inspire your inner artist.
A note on deadlines; written pieces must be submitted by the 31st of December, 2021. Art and photography pieces must be submitted by the 14th of February 2022.
Send your submissions to [email protected]. Please include your name and the title of your work in the subject of your email.
By Yaa Gyasi
pp. 262, 16.51
Yaa Gyasi has outdone herself once again with the publication of her second novel: Transcendent Kingdom. A story about one of capitalism’s biggest illusions ‘The American Dream’. As a child, Gifty would beg for her parents to tell her the story of how they got to Alabama from Ghana. Gyasi conveys a story about what it’s like to have a complicated relationship with one’s home country when you are a child of an immigrant, the odd feeling of not fitting in anywhere because you are not ‘American enough’ in one context and ‘too American’ in another.
Gifty’s parents don’t have an easy time settling in, her mother is constantly working, while her father finds it difficult to hold down a steady job. Nana, her older brother was the catalyst for their move. Her parents sacrificed everything for their eldest son to live in America and have more than they may have had in Ghana. Although her father never settled in, he became the homemaker and Gifty fondly remembers the times he would pick her up from school and feed her dinner.
Many years on, Gifty is now living in San Francisco, a Neuroscience PhD student desperately trying to understand the opioid addiction that destroyed Nana’s life. When her mother comes for a prolonged stay, it becomes obvious how poor her mental health is as she spends all her time in bed sleeping. While Gifty is testing her mice in the Stanford University lab, she hopes her mother will awaken from her sadness.
Gifty and her mother become to understand one another during this time and learn how they can rebuild their futures with the rubble of their pasts. The realities of immigrant life in America paired with the fact that they are one of the only black families in their community speaks to an experience everyone needs to read. This novel is vitally important and talks about many issues in an approachable and empathetic way.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet (2020)
Publisher: Riverhead Books
“You can escape a town, but you cannot escape blood. Somehow, the Vignes twins believed themselves capable of both.”
Brit Bennet’s second novel The Vanishing Half follows the lives of two estranged twins, Desiree and Stella. The twins grew up in a predominately black community in the small southern town, Mallard. After a turbulent childhood, the twins decide to run away together at the age of sixteen in search of a new future. Despite being identical twins, the two girls separate and lead completely disparate lives; one has a daughter and moves back to Mallard to care for her mother, the other runs away again, passing for white and hiding her identity from all those she meets, including her new family.
Bennet’s narrative skill is exemplary through the novel’s exploration of multiple generations and perspectives as she weaves together the story of the Vignes twins through their childhood and their life in California. Interestingly, this novel extends to include the narratives of the twins children, as we are shown the impact of their mother’s decisions on their daughters' lives and identities. Starting in the 1950’s, this novel follows the twins until the 1990’s, exploring their experience of identity, family, and race throughout the changing times in America. The perspective of the twin’s daughters heightens the development of this novel through the deeply disparate lives the cousins live, reflective of the effect of their mothers’ decisions and exploring the influence of family, class, and race. Bennet combines tragedy, romance, and humour amongst the complex issues of racial identity, ‘passing’, LGBT identity, and domestic violence.
This novel packs in a multitude of interesting characters and its constantly developing plot makes it the perfect page-turner for your summer reading list. HBO has purchased the rights to adapt Bennet’s The Vanishing Half into a limited series which will grace our screens in the near future so there is no better time than this summer to read this novel!
Tree (Una Mannion)
Faber & Faber, January 2021
pp. 319, £12.99
I nominated Una Mannion’s debut novel, A Crooked Tree, for the ROPES Book Awards because I want everyone to fall in love with this book just as hard as I did. The story follows the Gallagher children as they try to navigate the repercussions of their mother’s rash decision to leave their twelve-year-old sister, Ellen, to walk home alone in the dark. After Ellen attempts to hitchhike come, the novel kicks into action as the children live in fear of the ‘Barbie Man’, an aptly named long-haired creep whom Ellen encountered – and escaped – on her long walk home.
The book wasn’t perfect from page one, but Mannion smooths out the rough edges and develops a piece that is a true testament to both her skill and her growth as an artist. Her descriptions of the natural landscape of Valley Forge ground the novel and are tightly intertwined with the grief of our protagonist, Libby, for her late Irish father and with her understanding of the world. Equally strong is her transportive evocation of 1980s America, skilfully characterised by its disintegrating family units, blurred (but lingering) class lines, and a crumbling trust in authority.
Mannion’s talent grows as Libby matures and the momentum that she builds over the course of the novel carries you like a riptide to the final page. A Crooked Tree is not only a considered study in grief, childhood and American society but in Mannion herself as a writer, whose budding skill blossoms over the course of one fateful and dramatic summer.
Daisy Jones and The Six - Taylor Jones Reid
Publisher: Hutchinson London
‘We love broken, beautiful people. And it doesn’t get much more obviously broken and more classically beautiful than Daisy Jones’.
Told through a series of interview transcripts, the novel follows the rise and fall of a fictitious Fleetwood Mac-esque seventies rock group, The Six, and their captivating lead singer, Daisy. Think Stevie Nicks mixed with Janis Joplin mixed with Penny Lane from the movie Almost Famous, and you’ve got Daisy Jones.
The story kicks off with Daisy and those close to her recall her discovery by those with the power to make impressionable young women's dreams come true, as a groupie simply too bewitching to not become a star. Simultaneously, the other band members regale the interviewer/documentary maker with their tales of Billy and Graham Dunne’s humble beginnings as a wedding band, and their rise to fame as The Six. When these two rising stars' stories cross paths, Daisy is beginning her way down a path of destruction in an attempt to escape from her exploitation as a woman in a male-dominated world, while the Six are trying to make their musical return after Billy’s stint in rehab. Separately, these characters are unfortunate victims of the industry, but together, Daisy Jones and the Six become a force to be reckoned with.
With no fixed narrator, the plot is pieced together through recollections and musings by band members and peripheral characters throughout, making it feel as though the story is one of a shared history, each character offering their own memories and anecdotes as they recount their glory days. Daisy Jones follows the highs and lows of the infamous Rock and Roll scene, from the exploitation of impressionable young talents to the poisonous drug culture of the industry, as Taylor Jenkins Reid thrusts her readers into the glitzy, gritty glam of such an iconic time in music history, making it a perfect summer read.
Faber & Faber 2018
The Milkman Cometh
Forget everything you thought you knew about life in the North during the Troubles. Anna Burns’s novel transports the reader there, not only in terms of time and place, but of head and heart. Milkman is narrated by an 18-year-old who attracts local attention for two reasons: she reads while she walks and THE milkman fancies her. In any other setting neither of these two details would seem notable but in this unnamed town, in 1970s Northern Ireland, they are deadly.
In the tradition of Leopold Bloom, the story follows our narrator’s interior monologue as she walks through the micro-universe of her neighbourhood. Welcome to the mental landscape of no paragraphs. Or chapters. You’ll be relieved to hear there are full stops and, by God, you will cherish them. The intensity of the writing is cut with wry humour and a casual tone that encourages keeping up with, or rather within, the narrator’s physical and mental wanderings. The interior monologue of Burns’s protagonist is so absorbing that interruptions from other characters creep up like an unexpected tap on the shoulder.
By populating her novel with nameless characters, Burns presents a world where identity, even a name itself, is a liability. Instead, characters are referred to by their roles within the community, or in relation to the narrator: maybe-boyfriend, eldest sister, tablets girl. The result communicates the setting with photographic realism: life in a close-knit community stitched together by silence, acquiescence and fear. The mind-set of people forced to live under the constant shadow of terrorism is revealed with a nuance that demonstrates the author’s keen insight.
Anna Burns’s unforgettable novel, though firmly structured within its historical setting, transcends time. It is a story of being a young woman in a world controlled by men. It is a story of how people survive violence and oppression. It is the story of now.
Alex Stern is not your typical Yale university candidate, but it turns out that Yale may not be your typical university. Mystery and death have followed Alex all her life and when she is offered a full ride to an ivy league university from her hospital bed the questions are only beginning. What do they see in her? What can she see that they cannot?
After finishing up classes for the summer the last thing we might want to do is read a book that brings us straight back into the all too familiar college setting but Ninth House is not a typical college-based narrative. This tale has all the best elements of Bardugo’s fantasy worlds, but this time we’re not in the hive of Ketterdam we are in the underbelly of one of the world’s most prestigious universities. The mystery is shrouded in power, dark magic and the allusion of privilege that swims in the murky waters of Yale’s secret societies. Who doesn’t love a good séance, especially when Leigh Bardugo is at the reins? She blends the genres of fantasy and murder mystery to create an atmosphere pricked with intensity and suspense.
If you are going to read this novel, read it for the magic system. Some books have maps, some have elaborate family trees but this one has a table cataloguing the different types of magic practised by each Yale house. Yet another opportunity to assign ourselves to fictional groups. I’d be inclined towards St Elmo’s, I tend to be partial to elemental magic myself. Storm calling? Yes, please. If you enjoy dark academia, ghost, revenge and triumphs of a survivor then this book is for you.
Dive into the sinister ways of Yale’s occult activities and follow the dark and compelling pull of this intelligent and cunning narrative!!
Content warning: Sexual assault, date rape, self-harm and mental anguish.
Tom’s Pick: Drive Your Plough Over The Bones Of The Dead
Publisher: Fitzcarraldo edtions 2019
Is a book by Nobel Prize winning author Olga Tokarczuk. Set in a small village in the country side of Poland, the story revolves around a bizarre series of murders, committed over a single winter. Janina Duszejko, the books hero, is an animal loving former engineer, whose uppermost passions in life are William Blake and astrology. Against an environment of hostility and indifference, Janina and a group of gauche accomplices try and track down the culprit.
It is told in a manner that is cerebral and quirky, with a gripping plot accompanied at every turn by the narrator’s battery of insights. Tokarczuk was awarded the Nobel Prize for her “encyclopaedic passion” and this book is very much a polymaths romp. The title itself is derived from a line of William Blake’s poetry:
‘In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.
Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead.’
The book is very readable with unusual colours and accents. As someone who loves oddities and unfashionable locations it struck a chord.
The lead character, despite her eccentricates, is very intelligent and it is fascinating to live inside her head for the duration of the story. There are insights into Polish society, which feels not unlike the atmosphere of Nikolai Gogol’s Russia, corrupt, loutish and coming apart at the seams.
Introverts will feel nourished by the stories internal focus, but this is no wallflowers manifesto. A gripping plot shows a writer as skilled within her craft as she is engaged the libraries of the world. It is a who-dunnit with elbow patches. Once you’ve moved through to the end of the book, you’ll feel acclimatised to her style and yearn for more. Her newest book The Book Of Jacob has very recently been translated into English and is considered her Magnum Opus.
Aoibheann’s pick: The Chiffon Trenches
André Leon Talley
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2020
André Leon Talley’s memoir, The Chiffon Trenches, invites the reader into the life of one of the biggest players in fashion. The former editor-at-large of US Vogue dishes on various scandals, including his fierce friendships and notable enemies. The once righthand man of Anna Wintour finally bares all.
Raised in the segregated south by his grandmother and great-grandmother, there is a sense of needing a mother figure to fill the gap left by his own. There are heartbreaking hints to a craving to please various mother figures in Talley’s life whilst simultaneously being afraid to disappoint them.
Talley gives readers a keen sense of his personality from the offset, explaining how his favourite thing to do as a child was to pore over the glossy pages of Vogue in his local library. An ever-present force in his life, Vogue instilled a love of all things French which no doubt assisted him in deciding on his original life plan to become a French teacher at a private school. However, even while studying at Brown University, Talley was a “fashion addict, dramatic in attire and appearance, even then.” The thread of Vogue is sewn so explicitly throughout his life that it seems destined for him to have become one of the most influential men in fashion through most of the 1970’s to 2000’s.
The Chiffon Trenches provides the readers with insights into Talley’s dealings with other fashion icons such as Karl Lagerfield and Diana von Furstenberg as well as his personal opinions on various fashion houses. This memoir is a class act in name-dropping. Combining this with his conversational writing style, the reader is encouraged to fully immerse themselves in the world of fashion. He possesses an ease of writing that encourages even the most fashion illiterate of readers into his world. (Also, the mastery to which he casually inserts a catty comment is an art form in itself.)
A perfectly juicy read for lounging in the sun or curled up by the fire. If you’ve ever felt the desire to explore what goes on behind the glossy pages of your favourite fashion magazines this book is a must read.
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