My bookies* Jane, Yvonne and I read Louise Kennedy's first novel many months ago. Longlisted for the 2023 Women’s Prize, it's about a dangerous love affair set during (and I would say symbolizing) the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Here's what we said about it:
* bookies is a term referring to bookclub members, fellow readers, tea drinkers, friends
J: I loved the book and the author's use of language specific to certain characters. Being British, I grew up surrounded by news of the Troubles, so the topic touches close to home.
kb: The best contemporary fiction I've read in a long time. The author lets the reader figure out meanings instead of stating the obvious.
I liked her use of poetic language: Cushla leaned over her mother and kissed her cheek, taking in her sad scents. p 15
And her humor: All the guests were arriving at the stroke of 8. Very Protestant of them. p 207
Y: I didn't like it, especially the predatory and inappropriate behavior of one of the main characters. Some characters were not necessary except as a literary device (Gerry was used as a crutch). References to Irish political events were not well explained.
kb: I also had to look up a few of the cultural references; here are three of them:
1 Irish Singer Ottilie Patterson. Apparently, when she performed in Ireland as a starter for Duke Ellington's band, the Duke had to wait before coming on stage because Ottilie was so well-loved by the crowd.
2 Betsy Gray is known as the Ulster Joan of Arc. Read more here.
3 The Black Prince is a novel by Iris Murdoch, recommended by one of Kennedy's characters, who warns it may be too much to get through, since it's based on the dark story of Hamlet.
The End of the World is a Cul de Sac, short stories by Louise Kennedy
Betsy Gray or Hearts of Down by W G Lyttle
The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch
Once Upon a Time in Northern Ireland, BBC Documentary Series
Letter to the author
Sometimes I get sentimental or overly motivated when I finish a book, and write a letter to the author. It's a little embarrassing reading it several months later. I don't even remember if I actually sent this one, and I must admit, I still have not read the author's book of short stories as I promise below. But maybe I will!
I just finished your book Trespasses and wanted to tell you I really loved it. I found it to be the best contemporary fiction I’ve read in quite awhile. I liked the language, the use of differences in language to stress the different people or groups of people, as well as the humor of the language (for example the words spelled incorrectly on the menu (chedder, parcelly…), your sometimes poetic way of writing, and especially the subtlety - you leave space for the reader to figure out things for ourselves, while still being clear and giving us extra information when you think we need it. I really appreciated this because I find so many contemporary novels don’t do that - everything is laid out, leaving no room for nuance or imagination.
I’m not saying much about the Troubles and the emotional rendition of many aspects of those problems, but was touched deeply again, without you spelling everything out.
I’m sorry you experienced those difficulties but am glad you were able to write this really beautiful book. I plan on getting your short story book, and hope you’ll write more, if you wish to!
Congratulations and thank you!