Tuesday 6 December 2016

Love story with moral message

Fiction: Lyrebird, Cecelia Ahern, HarperCollins, €12.99

Margaret Madden

Published 07/11/2016 | 02:30

Cecelia Ahern
Cecelia Ahern
Lyrebird, Cecilia Ahern

A documentary crew discovers a young and beautiful woman on a remote farm in Cork. Laura has lived in an abandoned cottage for more than 10 years and the only person who knew of her existence is now dead.

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Sound engineer Solomon is fascinated by her ability to mimic sounds, and compares her to the Australian lyrebird. She can invoke even the most buried feelings with her unusual gift, yet she struggles to identify with the real world.

Solomon is drawn to her simplistic nature and feels an overwhelming urge to protect her from outside influence.

It is not long before "Lyrebird" becomes a household name and she is surrounded by people wanting to exploit her unusual talent.

The reader gets a glimpse into the world of celebrity TV and its knock-on effects.

Irish show StarrQuest is similar to shows like Britain's Got Talent and The X Factor, where raw ability is "discovered" and the private becomes public. Laura is a diamond in the rough and without guidance she finds herself being eaten alive by a network of greed and insincerity.

Solomon is prevented from seeing her and can only watch from afar as she is transformed from her wild, form into a media-friendly celebrity. Can you tame something so rare and beautiful without damaging its true nature?

Cecelia Ahern has written a love story with a moral message. While not ground-breaking, and a little repetitive at times, it is sure to delight her millions of fans.

Fiction: Inch Levels, Neil Hegarty, Head of Zeus, €14.99

Deirdre Conroy

Hegarty's debut novel opens in Donegal in 1983, as eight-year-old Christine Casey cycles slowly home through sodden overarching hedgerows.

Her movement is stealthily captured in the mind's eye of Patrick Jackson from his deathbed in Derry. A history teacher in his thirties, he was diagnosed with cancer only a few months before. When a colleague visits, he warns, "be careful what you wish for", reminding him how teachers yearn for retirement, and his has come all too soon.

Jackson recalls the newspapers at the time of Christine's disappearance; there were no traces or tracks near her bike, found in the ditch.

Five days later, a couple walking their dog by Lough Swilly discover the child floating at the Inch Levels, in the shadow of the sea wall.

At a period in Irish history when sectarian murders were a regular occurrence in the region, there seemed little hope of making an arrest for a "normal" murder. So it was, that Christine's mother took herself to the pier one month later and launched her body into the rippling current that sucked in from the Atlantic Ocean.

The twists in this narrative turn on the secrets held within the Jackson family.

The mother, Sarah, acknowledges she has a tongue like the blade of an axe and resolutely "never shows her feelings".

Patrick's only sibling, Margaret, was deeply jealous at the way their father favoured more serious conversation with his son.

Beneath the blue coverlet of his hospital bed, Patrick recalls the pivotal episode on Kinnagoe beach when his sister almost drowned him. Mordancy was the family terrain.

Shunning visitors, particularly his loathsome brother-in-law, Robert, Patrick continues to assemble pieces of the past through the imagined point of view of the other characters.

This device, while weaving an elaborate pattern of The Troubles and the internal lives of the family, can cause jagged shifts from the reader's perspective.

The topography of the north-east plays a leading role in the novel, its ragged shoreline, the skerries and islets in foaming waves, silver scree, hillside bracken and heather, all form a stable backdrop to Jackson's ephemeral memories.

From his bed, he cleaves to the past and summons the fragrant whin blossom and the clean scent of salty air as he seeks to tell the story he erased from his memory, and find the truth to honour the dead.

There is much to ponder in this exploration of how we view the past.

Neil Hegarty has published five major works of non-fiction, including the authorised biography of David Frost and The Story of Ireland.

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