Sunday 23 October 2016

Fiction: Naming the Stars by Jennifer Johnston

Tinder Press, €14.99

Anne Cunningham

Published 08/08/2016 | 02:30

Jennifer Johnston
Jennifer Johnston
Naming the Stars by Jennifer Johnston

Jennifer Johnston has returned to the "big house" for her latest work, with pen and prose as sharp and as poetic as ever.

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Flora and her maid Nellie are old ladies now, living mostly in the kitchen of Flora's big house. At dinner time, Nellie fetches the wine from the cellar - often more than one bottle - and the conversation begins. On one such night, as the third bottle commences, an argument erupts. Flora feels that Nellie has dismissed her as spoilt and privileged. And as the metaphorical evening closes in, Flora decides it's time that Nellie knew the truth about old family secrets, dormant now for decades. There are untold stories about Flora's unforgiving mother and about her brother Eddie, who secretly signed up for service in WWII with devastating consequences. But the real shocker concerns Flora herself. Johnston weaves her ominous shadows deftly and for a time the reader is only vaguely aware of them. But when they pounce, they catch you by the throat.

This short novel captures more than half a century with Johnston's typical grace and fluidity. It is paired off in this volume with her 1998 novel, Two Moons, a story of three generations of women. Mimi is entering her twilight days, while her actress daughter remains pre-occupied with work and her grand-daughter visits with her new boyfriend. Very soon, we discover, all is not well. Another marvellous Johnston novel, perennially fresh.

Sunday Independent

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