The #EU27Project: Two Months On…

It’s almost exactly two months since I dreamt up the #EU27Project of reading a book from each of the countries remaining in the EU, and about 7 weeks since I set up a separate page for linking reviews. So it’s time for a bit of an update.

I’m delighted to say that a number of you have responded – and it’s doubly appreciated, because it’s not the most intuitive linking method. You have to write the country, the author or book title and then your name in brackets, as it doesn’t have separate lines for each item of information.

We have 16 reviews and blogger Lizzy Siddal has been the most prolific reviewer to date. She has posted two books from the Netherlands: Gerard Reve’s masterpiece from 1947 translated at last into English, and Esther Gerritsen’s description of a toxic mother/daughter relationship. Also, two from Austria: short stories by Stefan Zweig (perennial old favourite) and a disquieting thriller by Bernhard Aichner. There is also a sly dig at behind the scenes of literary prizes by Filippo Bologna from Italy and a collection of short stories by Spanish writer Medardo Fraile described as ‘one of the best I’ve ever read’ – high praise indeed and it’s gone straight onto my TBR list. So here is a bouquet for Lizzy and her sterling work!

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Netherlands is front-runner in terms of number of book reviews. In addition to the two by Lizzy, there is also a review of Herman Koch’s story of personal and social meltdown The Dinner. Joint top of the leaderboard is Germany, with three historical novels. Susan Osborne reviews Summer Before the Dark, a fictional account of Stefan Zweig and Josef Roth spending the summer of 1936 together in Ostende, refugees in vacation land. Joseph Kanon’s thriller Leaving Berlin is set in post-war, post-partition Berlin and is reviewed by Maphead. Finally, Ricarda Huch’s novella The Last Summer is set in Russia just on the cusp of the 1917 revolution.

There are two book reviews for Ireland, both for Lisa McInerney’s riotous description of the less touristy side of Cork The Glorious Heresies: one by Kate Vane and one by myself. Finland can also boast two reviews, both for historical novels: White Hunger by Aki Ollikainen reviewed in French by Sylvie Heroux from Montreal; while Mrs. Peabody investigates Kjell Westö’s The Wednesday Clubwhich provides a rather grim insight into Finland’s troubled history.

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A Greek muse, from theoi.com

Peirene Press is represented with no less than 3 reviews: in addition to White Hunger and The Last Summer, there is also a Danish representative The Murder of Halland which is not so much a crime novel as a story about grieving, reviewed by Karen at BookerTalk.

Another publisher which is well represented here is Pushkin Press, with 5 reviews, most of them by Lizzy, but also Summer Before the Dark by Volker Weidermann. So well done to these two independent publishers for making so much European culture available to us in the UK!

Last but not least, one of the youngest EU members, Croatia, is represented by the book Girl at War by Sara Novic, highly recommended by Maphead.

In terms of personal plans, I’ve already veered away from my original ones. I oomed and aahed about my selection for Germany, gave up on considering Kati Hiekkapelto for the Finnish entry (because her book takes place in Serbia), switched my Irish entry, found a women’s writing collective for Lithuania (still to be reviewed) and am still conflicted about France… And I still have zero inspiration for Malta or Cyprus.

Another thank you to all participants, from my garden...
Another thank you to all participants, from my garden…

Thank you to all the participants and I hope to see many more of you in the months to come. I believe there are a few of you who have reviewed books which would fall into the EU27 category, but have not linked up yet, so please do so if you get a chance. There is no deadline, no pressure, and absolutely no shame in back-linking to older reviews from late 2016 or early 2017.

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#EU27Project: Ireland – The Glorious Heresies

gloriousheresiesA fizzy little corker of a debut novel set in Cork (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun!) and my first entry in the #EU27Project. Lisa McInerney takes us into the lives of those who have seen little of the Celtic Tiger benefits: misfits, rebels, people who have just given up.

The plot is quite complex and takes place over a number of years, but let’s see if I can briefly whet your appetite. First, there’s Ryan Cusak, 15 years old at the start of the novel, who can’t wait to grow up and get his revenge against his drunkard of a father, who often beats him. Although he is quite bright at school and keen to impress his girlfriend, the seemingly unattainable Karine D’Arcy, he is also a drug dealer and just can’t stop getting into trouble.

Tony is Ryan’s Dad, a widower with six children who is overwhelmed by life. When an old mate of his, Jimmy, a notorious Cork gangster, asks him to help with a little ‘cleaning’ work (i.e. getting rid of a body), he just can’t turn down that opportunity. But, of course, he is not quite up to the standard expected of a criminal.

Jimmy has a reputation, Tony more of a stench.

It’s Jimmy’s mother, Maureen, who mistook the man for an intruder and killed him with a Holy Stone, so her son is sorting out the mess. Maureen has been dragged back to Cork from London by her son’s misplaced sense of loyalty and guilt and housed in an abandoned quayside building which Jimmy had previously used as a brothel. Maureen had Jimmy out of wedlock, and was forced to flee her hometown when her parents took the baby away from her and raised him as their own. So she is remarkably clear-eyed about Jimmy’s shortcomings and completely at odds with the Catholic church, resentful of her ‘years of penitence with no sin to show for it.’

The victim was a skinny junkie called Robbie and initially no one knows or cares about his disappearance except for his girlfriend, ex-hooker Georgie. But then Tony and Ryan’s interfering neighbour Tara, described as ‘a vulture feeding off carcasses’, mentions something about Tony and Robbie knowing each other, so Georgie begins to investigate. Along the way, she finds refuge with a group of missionaries, even though she doesn’t believe at all in God, and meets Maureen during her door-to-door distribution of flyers duty. I’ll quote a bit more extensively selections from this scene, because it gives a good feel for the author’s brilliant use of humour.

‘I’m here…’ Georgie said, and faltered, and the woman raised her eyebrows.

‘Have I been expecting you?’ Her voice was a tart growl.

‘I’m here,’ Georgie began again. ‘To spread the word of… of Jesus Christ.’

‘You’d think He’d send someone less scatty,’ said the woman. ‘But fine. What has He got to say for Himself?’

Georgie thrust one of the leaflets at the woman.

‘Oh, He’s written it down for you,’ said the woman. ‘Handy.’

‘He says… He says: Go unto … go into the world and proclaim the gospel to… creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.’

‘Harsh fecker, isn’t He?’

George wilted and Clover beckoned her away, but the woman said, ‘What are you doing out preaching on a day like this, anyway? And in your condition?… You want to convert me, you better do it now, because this missive is going in the bin as soon as I close the door… Are you coming in or not?

‘There’s so much in the leaflet,’ Georgie said.

‘Are you going to deny an old lady her consultation, little preacher? Who goes door-to-door and declines the first invitation they get to pontificate?’

lisamcinerneyOf course, the digs at organised religion are very Irish, clearly showing the love-hate relationship every Irish person seems to have with Catholicism. But, as the title of the book indicates, this book is about more than that, it’s about all kinds of ‘heresies’, subverting the established ‘way of seeing things’, providing an alternative to mainstream narrative. The author gives us an insight into the life of the least regarded elements of Irish society and, although these individuals might annoy us with their stupid and self-destructive decisions, they are also acting within the confines of a bleak, depressing town with few if any future prospects. The damage they inflict on themselves are to a certain extent predetermined.

Yes, this is not cheery subject matter, but the author tackles this dingy world of prostitutes, addicts and criminals with verve and vigour. This is fierce tragicomedy at its best, and I found myself laughing and crying on the same page. This book is all about the unforgettable, pitch-perfect voice, raucous storytelling and the moving, pitiful, infuriating characters, with all their flaws.