Seamus Deane: Reading in the Dark
Though there is a plot to this novel, much of its charm lies in the vignettes of life as a Catholic in Derry after World War II. The plot is the story of a boy growing up in Derry as a Catholic, with all the problems of prejudice that are involved but, also, gradually finding out, over the course of the book, the reason why his uncle Eddie died, why his uncle (by marriage) abruptly left his mother’s sister, Katie, and disappeared to America and his very nervous mother’s guilty secret in all of this. However, the plot is not really very interesting. His uncle was an informer and then wasn’t and his uncle (by marriage) probably was and his mother had an affair before marrying his father. No, it is the little stories he tells in between that make this book enjoyable. There is the ghost story about the sisters who keep in touch with their dead parents. There is the wonderful episode of the priest giving our narrator his sex talk and the narrator’s comments thereon. There is his episode with the police. All of these liven up the novel, whose real story is fine but hardly gripping.
First published 1996 by Jonathan Cape