There were some very beautiful passages in this first novel set in modern-day Ireland and which tells a story of inter-generational conflict and inter-family rivalry. The rural scenes worked best for me and I wanted more of those. I liked the
sub-plot about the eighteenth century author, Maria Edgeworth and was eager for it to be woven more satisfyingly into the main plot.
Here are some passages, which give an idea of the promise in Belinda McKeon’s writing:
“But, then, just as quickly, they looked away, to the baby again, and they were focused tight in on her as though on a button they were trying to unfasten; pulling the white cap back down on her head, taking the little hands and hiding them under white cotton cuffs, touching the tiny, crumpled face and willing it to smooth contentment. And at that kind of willing, that kind of wishing, they would spend, probably, most of the rest of their days.”
“Those first years, when he was small, there was pleasure just in watching him among the animals, the fields, the sheds that, before him, had only meant work or money. To see this boy stride around the farm, even if he was hardly taller than the sheepdog, even if he was in short trousers and red wellingtons, even if had a head of curls like a girl; even for all this, the sight of him there was like a prayer lodged in the mind and answered with every thought.”
“Mark could see his reflection in the glass against the darkness; he looked hard-faced, he thought, wild-haired, his shoulders hunched.....He looked like one of the farmers who lived nearby....The same way of walking, the same way of standing, the same way of looking up slowly and assessing whatever met their eye - a woman, an engine, a sky.”
And a final one:
“Faced with this silence that was Keogh’s kindness, he felt only light and bloodless, emptied of himself and of everything that fixed him to his standing. He needed something to shoulder against, something at which to pitch himself, muscled with the old fury, with the old contempt. But there was nothing.”
I’ve read a couple of first novels recently, very different from each other but sharing a trait which reflects badly on the publishers rather than on the authors: poor editing.
Think back a couple of decades to when publishing houses were run by people who were in the business because they really loved literature and not just profit, who believed that writers were like precious plants that had to be carefully nourished and gently coaxed along so that what finally made it into the light was the very finest bloom that could be produced through the joint efforts of an entire team: editors, sub-editors, proof-readers and of course, the author herself. When you began to read the final version, and whether you appreciated the themes or not, there were never any jarring moments when some infelicity of phrasing or expression jolted your reading. You rarely found yourself distracted by themes that petered out or characters that failed to be credible. You never found yourself groaning as a new chapter picked up exactly where the previous one left off and you realised that the action still hadn’t moved on. No, you didn’t experience any of those irritations because they had been removed during that long slow dialogue between the author and the team.
But perhaps I only imagine that it was like this. I do know however, that jobs are being cut in publishing all over the world today as publishers try to survive in a very different book market. They need to publish new titles but must do so at minimum cost. Manuscripts are therefore edited by their authors even though it is surely well known that an author is rarely objective enough about their own work to know exactly where to make changes. All of this is unfortunate for the reader but more so for the new writer who has not been given the chance to bloom as she deserves.