In the daytime, Cushla Lavery teaches seven-year-olds in a small town near Belfast, in the evening, she helps her brother in his pub. And in between, she makes sure that her alcohol addicted mother is still alive. There is not much happening in her life until, one evening, Michael Agnew shows up in the pub. He is a lot older than Cushla, but nevertheless, something sparks between them. Times are hard in Belfast when the war is raging in the streets and the news report deaths daily. Michael’s job as a barrister puts him at risk, yet, with Cushla, political tensions are far away. Until they aren’t anymore.
Louise Kennedy captures a life that is determined not by the person who lives it, but by outer circumstances. “Trespasses” oscillates between awful news and being alert all the time and intimacy which cannot exist openly. Her description of what people in the 1970s in Northern Ireland endured is full of brutality – but, I assume, absolutely accurate.
The most striking aspect of the novel was for me, how the characters organise their lives around the raging war around them. Cushla’s teaching that starts with a news session every morning which shows that even her 7-year-olds are familiar with the war vocabulary and for whom an assassination is just another death, just another family without a father, just another random note on the radio. The bluntness with which the author depicts these scenes is brutal and therefore gets close to the reader.
It is unimaginable how you can live and love in those circumstances, on the other hand, Cushla’s care for one of the boys whose family is seriously struggling underlines that in times like these, love and compassion is the only thing that’s left.
Definitely not an easy read but without a doubt one I can highly recommend.
Sally is a typical school girl of 1960s Manchester. The 15-year-old believes herself a lot cleverer than her class mates and also her family. With her new best friend Pamela, she tries to extent the rules, takes her freedoms and over and over again gets into trouble. Most fun both have tormenting Sylvia Rose, a shyish, old-fashioned girl of their class. Even though Sally and Sylvia do have some common interests, she follows Pamela’s example and makes fun of her, some of their tricks go quite far, humiliating their class mate in front of the whole school. Common among the girls of their school is the attraction by superstition and an ouija board they secretly use during their breaks. When it predicts some bad luck, they do not want to believe it even though they are clearly warned by one of their teachers. But then, the unthinkable happens and will haunt Sally for the rest of her life.
Carol Birch’s novel is an addictive combination of school girl, coming-of-age and ghost novel. She cleverly turns the carefree, boisterous girls into fearful and edgy young women. The story is told from Sally’s point of view so we often get to know her thoughts which are convincingly portrayed: it is not easy to be a teenager, conflicting feelings, knowing what is right but doing what is wrong, making the wrong decisions and regretting them later.
The novel is divided into three chapters named “penumbra”, “umbra” and “anteumbra”. I was trying to make sense of this, but I am not sure if I really got the meaning. Maybe it reflects Sally’s mental state which deteriorates throughout the plot. Maybe this is linked to the idea of the ghosts and seeing or not seeing things, being tricked by the eye.
There is an uneasy feeling looming over the story, you know it is not going to run out well, yet, you cannot be sure what is real and what is only imagined. Is there some supernatural power making sure that there is some kind of pay back for the evil done? Or is it just all the imagination of a young woman at the edge? Captivating once you have started with some unexpected twists.
January 1973 first brought a promotion to Detective Harry McCoy of Glasgow police, but then things wrecked havoc. When Howie Nairn, a prisoner in the Special Unit of Barlinnie wants to see him, he is a bit irritated. Why especially him? And what does he have to say? Nairn tells him to take care of a certain Lorna who works in a posh restaurant and is likely to be killed the next day. McCoy doesn’t really believe him but nevertheless sets out to search for her. In vain. He can only watch how the young woman is shot in central Glasgow by a man who then commits suicide. Quite a strange thing, but things are going to get a lot more complicated and soon McCoy has to realize that the laws aren’t made for everybody.
Alan Park‘s first novel of the McCoy series lives on the atmosphere of 1970s Glasgow. The city hasn’t turned into the town it is today but resembles a rather run down place where police and gangland work hand in hand – have to work hand in hand if they want to solve any case at all. McCoy is rather unconventional in his work, but he certainly has the heart in the right place and fights for justice.
There are two things I really liked about the story: on the one hand, it is quite complicated and all but foreseeable, on the other hand, Alan Parks‘s has chosen inconvenient aspects which he puts in a different light which shows the complexity of reality and that live is not only black and white but full of shades of grey. McCoy can work for the police but maintain good relationships with old friends who control the criminal world. The recognized upper class are not the good-doers but also have their dark sides. And many people struggle to make a living, wanting to be good but at times have to ignore their own values simply to survive.
A novel which is full of suspense, with a convincing protagonist and perfectly crafted atmosphere of a dark Glasgow.