On Line Book Club – Review
Normal People by Sally Rooney
Normal People is the story of Marianne and Connell. We first meet them in their final year at school. Both by their own admission are damaged people. We never quite find out why they are damaged (is damaged the new Normal?). Marianne’s mother Denise is a solicitor, emotionally cold and indifferent to Marianne. She’s unpopular at school, though thought of as odd rather than actively disliked. Connell’s mother Lorraine works as a cleaner for Marianne’s mother. He’s popular at school, but shy, and they strike up an initially awkward friendship and quickly become lovers. They finish school and both end up at Trinity College in Dublin, where over the course of the next few years, their, on- again off-again relationship continues, as they both make the adjustment to big city life.
Normal People is very much about Marianne and Connell. We meet family members and friends. They both have other relationships and while these other characters play their part, they are too sketchily drawn to make a real impression. We’re never really sure why Marianne’s mother is so indifferent to her or why her brother is so cruel to her. We never get any real sense of dysfunction from Connell’s family despite the fact that his absent father is a shady criminal type. The format of the book, which jumps about in a staggered timeline also ensures that the spotlight stays firmly on the couple. And that’s just fine. We like these people. We want life to work out for them. We hope they finally end up together.
The writing is fluid and Rooney has a wonderful ear for dialogue. Yes, the book has flaws, but much like the flaws in our protagonists we can live with them. The real strength of Normal People is in the detail, the acute observations about people and how they relate to each other. The difficulties we have communicating with each other despite the digital age we live in and the myriad methods of communication at our disposal. In many ways it seems that the story is often as much about our relationships with ourselves, as with others.
I finished the book caring about Connell and Marianne and wanting to know what happened to them next. Theirs is a friendship and a love story, and I got the real impression that even if their affair didn’t last that the friendship would.
And that folks, is our first review for the Roe River Books, On Line Book Club. Do feel free to post a comment here or on the Facebook page. Do try to keep it clean though (unless it’s funny).Our Book Club choice for November is Emma Pine’s Notes to Self (more about this book in a later post).
AND………AS IF THAT WASN’T ENOUGH……………
ROCK STAR REVIEWS AT ROE RIVER
We did promise you when we launched the On Line Book Club that we hoped to have a special guest reviewer join us at the end of the month. As a huge fan of Sally Rooney’ s debut novel Conversations With Friends we thought we’d ask Ellie Rowsell of Wolf Alice for her considered opinion.
Ghost of Tom Joad by Bruce Springsteen (Grapes of Wrath), Motorcycle Emptiness by Manic Street Preachers (Rumble Fish), Sympathy for the Devil by the Rolling Stones ( Master and the Margarita), Atrocity Exhibition (Atrocity Exhibition) by Joy Division : there’s a long history of rock musicians being inspired by books.
More recently Mercury Award winners Wolf Alice have taken inspiration from the world of literature. Emma Cline’s The Girls and The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter are just two of the books to have informed their musical progress. So, we’re delighted that guitarist and lead singer Ellie Rowsell has agreed to be a regular book reviewer for us here at Roe River Books. We’ll be posting Ellie’s review of our Book of the Month, in the next day or so.
As well as being incredibly nice people Wolf Alice also make great music. If you haven’t listened to them yet, you should. My Love is Cool is a great debut album and the follow up Visions of a Life deservedly picked up this years Mercury Prize. Go and buy them both now.
An Evening With John Connolly
Thursday 15 November @ 7.00 pm
Now that Halloween has passed, if you’re settling into a state of mortal dread at the though of the first Christmas carol assaulting your ears, then fear not. We may have just the thing to settle your nerves, or set them on edge depending on your disposition. Regular customers will know that we’ve been operating from our spanking new premises here in Park Street for a few months now. It was all a bit frantic getting opened and finding our feet in time for the busy school season and while we couldn’t really have hoped for it to have gone more smoothly than it did, we were sorry that we didn’t get a chance to have an official launch of the store. So while not exactly an official launch, we will be properly announcing the new shop on Nov 15th when we’re delighted to say John Connolly will be joining us.
Anyone familiar with John’s Charlie Parker series will know that he writes just about the finest thrillers in print. If you’re not familiar with John’s work (and if not, shame on you), then now is the time to start. If you like dark, brilliantly written thrillers, you’ll be hooked.
John is an incredibly busy man, with the latest Parker novel, The Woman in the Woods and the paperback of he currently gracing bookshelves and best seller lists across the globe. He’s recently returned from a tour of South America and has just launched a Monograph commissioned by PS Publishing, giving his personal take the classic British chiller the Horror Express. Rumours that John is currently working on an updated version of the film, set on the Eurostar, to coincide with Brexit are yet to be confirmed.
And most exciting of all we believe he has just submitted the final draft of the forthcoming A Book of Bones (No 17 in the Parker series) to his publisher. The bad news is they won’t be publishing it till April 2019. So before John hibernates for the winter we’re really delighted that he has kindly taken the time to pop up and wish us well on the unofficial launch of our new venture. John is a terrific ambassador for independent bookshops so if you can make it down for the evening, (and we hope you do) be nice to him.
To help celebrate the “launch” and John’s visit, we’ll be offering discounts and special offers, including all of John’s novels. John is happy to sign any books bought on the day (or as part of our promotion that week). Keep an eye out for more details on the event over the coming day, and hopefully see you all soon.
Book Club Update (sort of..)
We’re half way through the month on our first On-line Book Club. We’re finished. I know, we’re just like that annoying kid at school, who put their hand up to tell the teacher they were finished, when you were still trying to figure out the question. So to give the rest of you time to catch up we’ll post our review closer to the end of the month. In the meantime though, we like to say a few words about the cover of the book.
“don’t judge a book by it’s cover” we’re told. I’m never sure why exactly, because some of my own more inspired impulse buys over the years have been specifically because of the cover. The best book covers become classics in their own right. Think, To Kill a Mockingbird or The Great Gatsby. Even if you haven’t read the book you may well recognise the cover. It may be that the cover is no real indication that you’ll like the book, but you know when the publisher takes the time to get the cover right then the chances are that the book is worth the effort.
Which brings us to the cover of book club choice for the month Normal People. Having just read the book, this cover just about nails it, in terms of the work contained within. Classic, simple and perfectly illustrates the intense relationship of the books main characters Connell and Marianne.
It’s a wonderful book cover designed by Jon Gray (http://gray318.com/) using an image by Korean artist Henn Kim (https://www.hennkim.com/). Their work compliments each others beautifully and I particularly like the way in which Gray’s design respects the integrity of the artists original image (she always works in black and white). I’m sure this will be the first of many jackets worn by this book as it is reprinted in the coming years (I’m dreading the TV Tie-in cover already) but it’s going to be hard to top this (future) classic.
It’s odd, in fact to think of how many covers a book will go through in it’s lifetime. A book will often have a different cover in paperback than in the hardback edition. Possibly a concession to the production costs (?) or the different dimensions of the particular edition. The best book covers can be as iconic as a classic album covers. It’s impossible however, to think that an album cover would ever be treated in this fashion. I’m sure it does happen but certainly with nowhere near the frequency of book covers. So the next time you pick up the book take a minute to appreciate the fine work of the book designer and artist.
Do feel free by the way to post comments either on the web page or on Facebook about the book (and/or the cover) In the meantime keep reading and I hope you’re enjoying the book as much as we did?
As part of our new regime here at Roe River Books we’re launching an on-line Book Club.
The idea is we pick a book, usually a new release, although we’re not adverse to selecting a classic or two once we get up an running. We’ll be reading the book ourselves and providing a bit of background on the book and the author. The selected title will be on special offer in the the shop and at the end of the month we’ll post our review. We’ll also be happy to receive reviews from any of our customers and readers which we’ll also post to the website. It needn’t be a full review or incredibly in depth. Just let us know if you like it or not and why.
Our first choice for Roe River Book of the Month is Sally Rooney’s, Normal People. It was longlisted for the Man Booker, though sadly didn’t make the final shortlist. It follows the, on again, off again relationship between Connell and Marianne, two young lovers from Carricklea in the west of Ireland and follows their relationship through the turbulent highs and painful lows as they finish school and relocate to Dublin. It follows on from Rooney’s highly successful debut Conversations With Friend and was hugely anticipated on it’s release in August this year.
If you’ve read it already, let us know what you thought of it? If you haven’t got around to it yet pick it up at Roe River Books. Mention the on-line book club when buying it and get 25% off. Offer is open till 31st October.
We’re also delighted to say that we’ll have a special guest reviewer giving us their opinion on the book at the end of the month, in the first of what we hope to be a regular feature.
In an age of Fake News, Fakebook (sorry Facebook) and wholesale media manipulation, books are more important than ever. Note the outrage of a certain American politician whenever a book is published by one of his former staff members or political commentators. We need books now more than ever. And more than ever we need for those books to be read, not banned. The fact that books get banned tells us all we need to know about how important they are, and how powerful words and books can be. Look to the classics section of any bookshop or library and its shelves will be filled with “banned books”.
Banned Books Week 2018, the annual celebration of the freedom to read, is being held September 23 – 29. The 2018 theme, “Banning Books Silences Stories,” is a reminder that everyone needs to speak out against the tide of censorship.
To mark the occasion we’re delighted to welcome German born, Dundalk resident and author Marcel Krueger to give his Teutonic take on the classic All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque.
by Marcel Krueger
No to decadence and moral corruption! Yes to decency and morality in family and state! I consign to the flames the writings of Heinrich Mann, Bertolt Brecht, Erich Remarque, Erich Kästner!
– Joseph Goebbels, 10 May 1933, Berlin
In 1930, the Neues Schauspielhaus (New Theatre) on Nollendorfplatz in Berlin drew the attention of Nazi brownshirts for showing the premiere of an American movie. The thugs disrupted the German by releasing hundreds of white mice in the cinema, throwing stink bombs and beating up fleeing punters.
The film that caused so much trouble at the cinema, Im Westen nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front), was based on the 1929 novel of the same name by prolific German writer Erich Maria Remarque (1898 – 1970). Remarque was conscripted into the Kaiser’s army and served on the Western Front in Belgium, where in 1917 he was wounded and spent the rest of the war in an army hospital. After his release from hospital, he worked a number of different jobs and moved to Berlin in 1925, living initially in a number of small flats across the city. His choice of accommodation however soon changed, after the 1929 publication of All Quiet on the Western Front. The book retells the experience of German soldiers in the trenches of World War I in a way that – judging by the 2.5 million copies sold in 22 languages in its first 18 months in print – not only spoke to German veterans but to all soldiers who had fought in World War I. The story is told from the point of view of Paul Bäumer, a German soldier who—urged on by his school teacher—joins the German army, and is subsequently sent to fight on the Western front of World War I. Here he witnesses all the madness and horror of industrialised warfare, the aloofness of the commanding officers and the camaraderie that is shared by soldiers on all sides destined to become canon fodder. In 1918, Paul is killed on day about which the official army report from the frontline simply states: “All quiet on the Western Front.”
But it is not the harrowingly realistic depiction of war in the trenches that makes this book so outstanding and have kept it in print until today, but the fact that Remarque saw through all the propaganda and nationalist slogans of his time that were (again) pitting Germans against the French. He made the shared experience of the soldiers on both sides of the front a key part of the pacifist message of his book, as exemplified by this passage where Paul contemplates the man he has just killed:
But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony–Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?
The book immediately established Remarque as one of the most popular writers of his day, helped along by his film star looks and penchant for affairs and high-profile relationships with actresses like Hedy Lamarr, Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo. In 1931, after publishing a sequel to his bestseller called The Road Back, Remarque bought a villa in Switzerland and left Berlin for good. Like the writings of so many of his contemporaries, his books were burned by the Nazis two years later. A fine thing that we can still read it today.
Tomorrow, Thursday the 18th June, sees the publication of “Grey”, the follow up to E L James trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey. Fans will tell you the significance of the date (June 18th is its “hero’s” birthday). It may be a new novel, but it isn’t a new story. The previously published, Fifty Shades trilogy, has already given us Anastasia Steele’s story in all its latex clad glory. This time around James is giving us the same story again, this time from the “male” perspective.So although Grey is a spanking new novel, the spanking is not.
On finishing the Harry Potter series J K Rowling cleverly wrote her follow up, not only with new characters, but in an entirely new genre. A Casual Vacancy was an adult novel and was generally well received by fans and critics alike. She further established her non Potter writing credentials under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith with the Cormoran Strike novels. Only now eight years later is she finally talking of a return to the Potter character for a new novel. There is always a danger that authors will go to the well once too often with a well loved character. Rowling recognised this, and has has successfully avoided the danger of being a one trick pony (albeit a hugely successful one)
As someone who hasn’t read any of the previous novels I must admit to a certain curiosity as to how it will be received. Fans will no doubt be curious but will the 70 million who have already read the book, really want to read the same story all over again? The original books although wildly popular were generally poorly reviewed critically. One critic stating that, “they had never read anything so badly written that got published”, further commenting that”it makes Twilight look like War and Peace”. Its success then is more likely to be the unusual subject matter. Unusual for a mainstream novel that is. That and timing. The world, or the books’ readers at least, were ready for Fifty Shades of Grey. Will Grey be met with a “been there done that” indifference, or will fans slavishly lap it up? The new book certainly doesn’t have originality on its side. Novelty, maybe? Timing?, the publication of the novel three years after the last book and four months after the movie adaptation was released, seems strange. Why not closer to the movie’s release? Author E L James has take quite a risk therefore, in publishing Grey as her first novel since the Fifty Shades trilogy. Will fans feel short changed?
Maybe James is suffering from writers block? Maybe she’s smarting from the critical mauling the originals received and is looking to rewrite the story in an attempt to win the critics over? Either way its a huge risk. I’ll leave it to others to gauge the wisdom of her decision. I have no doubt the book will sell in huge numbers. The real question is where does James go next. No matter how well or how poorly received Grey really isn’t anything more than a stopgap.
Grey is available in paperback from Thursday 18th and can be bought at Roe River Book. It retails at €9.99.
One of the pleasures of owning a Bookshop is witnessing the reaction of people when they ask you, “what do you do for a living”. The reaction is seldom indifference. When I say, “I own a Bookshop,” most people react with a “Really? That must be so cool” sort of response. Occasionally you get a perceptive “Gee, that must be tough?” Most of the time, however, the response is positive, even from people who then proceed to tell you that they love to read but just don’t have the time. You also get a fair number of people who tell you that they would love to own a bookshop, or at least, work in one and I imagine most of them mean it too.
What they don’t realise is that owning a bookshop is not so much a career choice as a vocation. Independent bookshop owners certainly aren’t in the business for the money. For anyone lucky enough to own or run a bookshop however, the rewards are immense. There is probably no better embodiment of “life work balance”. It goes without saying you need to love books and to love reading. I make a distinction here because reading, like not reading, can be a habit. While I might occasionally have slipped into the habit of not reading, I never stopped loving books, the touch the feel, the smell of them. Like most book lovers I’ve bought many more books than I’ll ever read. Owning a bookshop means I’ll never have to worry about buying too many (although my accountant might disagree).
Roe River Books is my second stint as a bookshop owner. First time round the imaginatively titled Dundalk Bookshop opened in 1987. Before that I’d worked in civil engineering and when recession bit, rather than emigrate I used my meagre savings and redundancy to open a bookshop. Unfortunately I was never able to generate enough financial momentum to get the stock level to a point where I could see a viable future. After 5 tough but enjoyable years the shop lease was up for renewal and I had a decision to make. Extend the lease and go again for another 5 years or go back to engineering which was picking up again after the recession. I sold my soul. The lure of a regular weekly wage, paid holidays and sick days was too much to resist. I closed the shop in 1992. I was relieved, but sad at the same time, and fell out of love with books for a while.
Fast forward to 2007 and I’m a self employed planning and design consultant. A client of mine has just bought a property and wants me to survey the building. The property houses Carroll’s Educational Supplies, an institution in Dundalk where generations of children have bought their school books. My client informs me that he really only wanted the building and that, most likely he’ll be selling the business on after the summer season. I half jokingly say to him not to sell it without talking to me first and two cups of coffee later, I’m back in the book business.
I was immediately aware of the difference. Bookselling is just a much nicer thing to spend your time doing. The Celtic Tiger years had turned civil engineering into a rat race. Aided in no small part by the advent of the mobile phone, you were never “off clock”. I was glad to be back. I knew it would never pay as well. That didn’t matter, I had a bookshop again. A school bookshop admittedly, but I could change that in time.
It worked, to a degree. Then the recession hit and things began to stagnate. I became uncomfortably aware of the unhealthy parallel between my ownership of bookshops and recessions. Still we maintained the school trade and increased turnover in the first year. Turnover, though, levelled off and while we had some success with general books, developing this side of the business has been much slower than I would have liked.
Despite the difficulties it’s still a wonderful life. 15 years later the book trade is a significantly different place to the one I closed the door on in 1992. The net book agreement is gone, supermarkets sell books as loss leaders, the e-book has arrived and Amazon are doing their best to make sure that just about everybody buys everything, books included, from them. Video shops and record shops are all but gone. Many chain bookstores are also gone (Hughes and Hughes have opened and closed twice in Dundalk since 2003), but independent bookshops are still here.
Independent bookshops survive because they aren’t just about financial transactions. They are about books, obviously, but also about people, people who write books, people who read books and people who like being surrounded by books. They don’t just want to sell you books to make money; they want to sell you books because the books they sell are worth reading.
It looks like my second bookshop has survived a second recession. High street retail may never again be what it once was thanks to on-line retail but I’m optimistic about the future of the shop. The next phase will see it rebranded as Roe River Books to coincide with the launch of our web page next month. The Amazon River is the longest in the world and it’s on line namesake seems to want to take over the world. The Roe River once held the record as the shortest river in the world so in choosing its name, its bricks and mortar namesake may be accused of a lack of ambition. I like the idea of being the polar opposite of that on line giant. I like to feel that we’re just as important. We may not have every book in print but we might just have the one you need.
(This article first appeared on writing.ie)
Pulitzer Prize-winner Art Spiegelman has branded Russian bookstores’ decision to stop selling copies of Maus, his graphic novel about the Holocaust, the “harbinger of a dangerous thing”. The Russian authorities have moved to remove Nazi insignia ahead of the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
Copies of Maus have been withdrawn from Moscow’s major book shops, because it includes a swastika on its cover.
“It’s a real shame because this is a book about memory,” Spiegelman told The Guardian. “We don’t want cultures to erase memory.”
In December, the Kremlin passed a law banning “Nazi propaganda”, and since then authorities have reportedly raided toy stores and antique shops believed to be selling the paraphernalia.
Spiegelman told the Guardian that it was particularly ironic that an explicitly anti-fascist book should be swept up under the law. “Stalin, after getting us into helping start world war two … was probably responsible for making the Russians liberate a lot of those camps that helped my father survive. A tip of the hat for Victory Day and a middle finger for trying to squelch expression,” he said.
Varvara Gornostayeva, the chief editor at Corpus, the book’s publisher, told AFP that major bookstore chains were taking it off their shelves and internet sites.
“There is no Nazi propaganda in it. This is a book that should be on the shelves on Victory Day,” Gornostayeva argued.
Thankfully, Maus is NOT banned in Ireland, and you can buy it in the store. We will add it to the online shop shortly.