Happy New Year, and holidays in Broken Harbour

broken-harbour-tana-frenchOkay, so I’m just about a week late with this, but it’s the best way I could think of, during the course of another too-rushed lunchtime, to ease my way into a first post of 2013.

I enjoyed an extended Christmas holiday, which was great, although that didn’t exactly translate into additional time spent blogging. Sitting in front of a PC screen is not, I find, really conducive to looking after two children under the age of four, including a three-and-a-half-year-old who spent a few days laid up sick on the couch and a 15-month old who plods around leisurely but is liable to cause the damage of your average hurricane in any given five-minute spell.

So for most of the break, sitting on the PC was out. Reading, on the other hand, was in. Yes, my attention is just as diverted, but I tell myself that concerted exposure to their Dad sitting (or slouching, or even lying down – it was Christmas, after all) reading a book is sure to exert a positive influence.

I got through three books over the holidays: the sports fix was sated for a while by Soccernomics, by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, which was very interesting to a point (I’m nerdy about sports books); I thoroughly enjoyed Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell’s engrossing investigation of success and its roots; and most pertinently to a blog about Irish writing, Tana French’s Broken Harbour.

I was led to Broken Harbour by a breathless review by Declan Burke on The Last Word with Matt Cooper before Christmas. I occasionally go through phases of reading crime fiction (I’ve got through several by Iain Rankin, one by Benjamin “Banville” Black, some John Connolly and one or two dreadful ones by Harlan Coben in the past), but it’s been a few years since I picked up a new one. I find the vast majority of genre fiction pleasantly diverting and almost instantly forgettable, which is not really what I’m looking for in a book.

Whether I’ll remember a huge amount about Broken Harbour in a year or two, I’m not sure, but it did seem to poke its head well above the better end of the crime fiction genre. There were certainly several passages that felt much more profound than anything I’d read in, say, Rebus. As usual with crime novels, a fine-tooth comb by a top real-world investigator might reveal a plot-hole or two, but on the whole it was hugely enjoyable, fizzing along page by page as events revealed themselves to its convincing first-person narrator, Detective Garda Michael Kennedy.

It also succeeded in painting a grim picture of boom-and-bust Ireland, all ghost-estate grimness and post-designer label humiliation. As an illustration of the woes facing Ireland’s silent majority, the put-upon middle class, it was much better than anything I’ve read, including Claire Kilroy’s quite acclaimed The Devil I Know. (Note: I’ve yet to get my hands on Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart, which has been held up by some respected observers as the stand-on novel about the Irish financial crisis.)

More pertinently, though, its depiction of a fraying mind was a frightening reminder of our slim hold on our sanity. Leaving aside the mental associations brought to me by the Coben cover quote, Broken Harbour is highly recommended. I just wonder how long Tana French will spend in this part of the world.  Her market, like the thousands of young families who in an alternative, utopian future might have been making a vibrant community of her fictional remote north Dublin coastal enclave of Brianstown, is elsewhere.

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