Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Lagan Love takes the traditional love story and ramps it up several notches . . .

Ireland has produced more than its fair share of talented authors and poets: James Joyce, Patrick Kavanaugh, Austin Clarke, Brendan Behan, William Butler Yeats, and many more. With his stunning debut novel, Lagan Love, Peter Murphy is well on his way to adding his name to that impressive list. Named after an Irish song, Lagan Love is an atmospheric tour de force set during the Celtic Twilight in mid-1980s Ireland. This romance with supernatural overtones evokes the pagan beliefs that still thrive in Ireland, despite the best efforts of the Vikings, the English, and the Catholic Church to drive them out like Saint Patrick did with the snakes.

Aidan Greeley is Ireland’s rising poet, and he leads Janice, a promising young painter from Toronto, through the veil of the Celtic Twilight into the world of Irish folktales and myths. What they find on the other side threatens to destroy them both. Fame comes at a very high price. Is Aidan willing to sacrifice his shot at fame and glory for his love of Janice, or will he end up sacrificing Janice? Will Janice’s friend Sinead be able to save her before it’s too late? And is Gwen Fitzwilliam, the wife of the wealthy Maurice, merely Aidan’s patron and lover or something much darker – a creature out of Ireland’s myth and lore, a leanan sidhe, or lenanshee, a fairy spirit who inspires lovers to ever-greater creative heights, but at a price. Will the price be Janice’s love and soul?

The main characters first meet at smoke-filled Grogan’s pub. One reviewer has compared it to the bar Cheers from the television show (“where everyone knows your name”), but that seems a rather simplistic analogy. The pub serves the town’s rough-hewn workers, farmers, and lost university students, a place where you can raise a pint to toast a friend or get roaring drunk to forget your problems, at least for a night. Here Aidan meets Sinead and begins an affair with her, and here he does the same with Janice, with whom he falls in love and starts to think may be his one true love.
Murphy draws on Ireland’s rich history, tangled web of politics, culture, literary giants, myths, and legends to weave a wondrous tapestry of a novel. Aidan’s insights, his teaching Janice about the struggles and hardships that Ireland has had to go through to make it the country it is when he meets her, and Murphy’s introspective and very quotable observations about the human psyche make Lagan Love much more than a run-of-the-mill love story.

The author tells the novel from the many and varied points of vies of its characters, even allowing us glimpses into the insatiable desires of Gwen. An impressive feat, that such a range of emotion and characterization could be achieved by a first-time novelist. The reader sees what is going on through the eyes of whichever character is on center stage at any given time. It’s sometimes difficult for a male author to write from a believable point of view of a female character like Sinead, Janice, and Gwen, but Murphy does a masterful job, making them come alive for his readers.

Lagan Love takes the traditional love story and ramps it up several notches, with a supernatural twist that makes it an instant classic. I would highly recommend Lagan Love to anyone who loves supernatural romances, urban fantasies, and great literature in general. I can’t wait to read what Peter Murphy writes next. If it’s anywhere near as good as Lagan Love, it will be well worth the wait.

This Book Review is provided by: Curled Up With A Good Book
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This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Lagan Love Reviews

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

What if this is the last Christmas?

"Both the Hopis and Mayans recognize that we are approaching the end of a World Age... In both cases, however, the Hopi and Mayan elders do not prophesy that everything will come to an end. Rather, this is a time of transition from one World Age into another. The message they give concerns our making a choice of how we enter the future ahead. Our moving through with either resistance or acceptance will determine whether the transition will happen with cataclysmic changes or gradual peace and tranquility. The same theme can be found reflected in the prophecies of many other Native American visionaries from Black Elk to Sun Bear."
— Joseph Robert Jochmans

(This was written last year but I thought I'd better stick it up again - just in case!)

And what might you ask has this got to do with Christmas?

Well, if the world were to end on 12-12-2012, this is the last one and that is not as bad as it sounds.

Think about it: you could go crazy and buy everything your heart desires on a no-money-down-pay-later scheme. As long as you time it properly – you’ll be fine. (However, I should caution you that I once believed that I would not live past 30. In fact everyone who knew me agreed. But I did and was totally unprepared.)

But even outside the commercial aspect – which you have to admit it would solve most of the world’s economic problems. And there is the matter of going out in a blaze of glory. You could make this the finest Christmas of your life.

You could be like old Ebenezer and soften your heart and let some joy in. You could be like Santa Claus and spread a little cheer into the lives of children everywhere or you could just be a nicer version of yourself.

You could erase your naughty list and give everyone a clean slate.

You could try to see everyone else’s point of view – you know – like the soldiers in the WWI who came out of the trenches to play a little footie in no-man’s land.

Any of this will do becaue if any of what Mr. Jochmans says is true – this could lead to that better future.

And if he is wrong then at least we go out with some dignity and not as a snarling rabble of discontent.
I suppose it is a choice and what better time to make a good one than Christmas – whatever it means to you!

Nollaig Shona Duit.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Christmas – a time for family – whatever family means.

Christmas is a time of mixed emotions; a time of largesse and extravaganza but also a time tinged with sorrow of Christmases past. As a child I didn’t know this and could only look forward as the day drew near and the mountain of presents grew beneath the tree. “Can we not just open one now?”

“No, they won’t let us, we have to wait ‘til Christmas Eve.”

But as the Christmases piled up I noticed something else. After dinner my brothers would gather the dishes from the table to the kitchen. There, organized, we all pitched in. We would work together and pretend that we didn’t enjoy it. It was not for us to say how much we loved each other and how much we meant to each other. That type of talk was only acceptable with drink taken. So we told each other by the delight we took from doing things together even if we grumbled throughout.

“Get your arse in gear and get those dishes clean.”

“Would ever go and shite!”

“Shite! Is that how you talk at Christmas?”

“He talks shite all the whole year.”

“What are you little gob-shites laughing at?”

“Leave them alone, will ya? Let them have Christmas – the auld fella will spoil it soon enough.”

“Is he still sleeping?”

“Yes, thank Christ, let him sleep ‘til tomorrow and we can all enjoy the day.”

Being the smallest and the least useful I was given the simplest of tasks and received wondrous praise. I belonged to a family, even if only on days like these.

“Good man, Peter, you’re after doing the work of an army – an Irish Army.”

“He did fuck-all.”

“Shut your mouth you or I’ll . . .”

One year, while they were busy repairing the ties that bound them all together, I slipped away un-noticed. I went back into the living room. It was darkening but the firelight danced against the walls and the lights on the tree sparkled. My mother sat and stared into the memories that flickered among the glowing embers and dark caverns of the coal fire. She was smoking and crying and didn’t notice my small shadow as I flitted around the edge of the room.

Back then I couldn’t understand why anyone would cry at Christmas because I had neither regrets nor remorse. Christmas was the purity of love risen like a ghost to banish all sadness.

My mother turned to answer my question and smiled at me.

“My mother died on Christmas Eve”, she said in that voice she used to tell children to mind their own business. I never asked again and in the following years I stayed with my brothers and let her alone with her sadness. It was the last Christmas of innocence and I had started down the road away from childhood.

And there was the year when my father came home less drunk than he might have been and went into the attic to check on the chimney fire.

“Bartley! Be careful now, you’re not as young as you used to be.”

“Erra Christ, woman, do you not think that I can manage?”

“Bartley,” my grandfather cautioned, “we could ask one of the lads. Sean? Would you ever go up and have a look?”

“Erra Jasus, Am I not man enough to do a man’s job?”

All it took was one misplaced step and we had a new memory of Christmas. His booted foot broke through the plastered ceiling and dangled into one of the bedrooms.

“Oh! Look,” Dick said to the foot protruding from the ceiling, “it’s Santa Claus.”

Christmas became a continuum and over the years I measured myself by them. In the early ones I had a mountain of presents to build a wall between my happiness and what was going on around me. My family knew this, as their generosity was enough that it has stayed with me through all the years in between. Many of my early years were difficult times for my family but they always found a way to offer me some shelter until I was too big to hide.

Sometimes my father couldn’t work but most of the time his money never made it to our house. It was given to publicans. But in those years there were family concerts when those of us who could play instruments did and others sang and my mother would dance a jig. She was so light on her feet.

I doubt the music was good but to us, then, there was nothing better. For one evening we lived in such excess and in defiance of the world and all of the terrible things that happened in it. Despite dysfunction and disharmony we sang away the heartaches and the tears. We forgave each other every little thing that had happened in the year and were one in this communion of compassion. The coal fire blazed late into the night but we would not retire. We would wring every moment of pleasure from the day in the glorious unification of family and were more content than at any other time. And when we sang Silent Night we sanctified our cause with an affiliation with the godchild.

Silent night

Holy night

All is calm, all is bright.

On Christmas Night we could take a break from our wars. We could meet in the open spaces between our competing personalities and for a while, forget the pain we caused each other. We shared the bounty of Christmas and the largesse of the goodwill it inspired. And, when we felt the loneliness and separation that accompanies feelings of good, we clung to each other for comfort and assuredness that we would survive. Like snow, a peace would settle on all of our lives. For one evening we could share the humanity and love that often eluded us.

So if most of my earliest memories are of grey days and black and white photographs then Christmas was that splash of colour. The Red of Holy Berries; of Blood and Wine spilled in sacrifice and in carelessness; anger and rage; and the Green of Christmas Trees, the colour of the world outside in the cold damp rain.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Happy Holiday Season?

What the Hell are you supposed to call the damned thing now with people going around forcing the word ‘Holiday’ instead of our all of exclusive, term-laden, insensitive labels that we drag from the murky depths of our empiric, exclusive, bigoted, xenophobic Eurocentric traditions?

I’m okay with Christmas being called Christmas even though it might be more accurate to call it ‘Saturnalia’, or ‘Yule’ or whatever the ancient Celts called the Winter Solstice when the decline of the Sun was reversed – even though celebrating it in December is definitely exclusive to the Northern Hemisphere.

But I also have learned that those who are different to me have celebrations at this time of the year too.
There’s a very interesting list at

Perhaps in the Spirit of Christmas I might find the time to learn a little more about them (– and that’s the audience participation part. Let me know what you are celebrating.)

Because of my culture I know more about Christmas and I do like to stop and think how it all came about. The days of Saturnalia were days without fear of censor by law and courts were closed. I believe that it was a socially recognised as a time to blow off a little steam – like after losing a battle to the Carthaginians. And, like all good pagan festivals – it ended with human sacrifice to appease the Gods or to pay for sins – not unlike when the bills arrive in January! The same excess echoes in so many Christmases when over-indulgence cause tears, fears or worse.

The Nords had a Yule celebration and with it; snow tipped coniferous trees and a benevolent visitor from the North. Throw in a few Celtic touches like Mistletoe and Holly and we can all feel cosy by the fire! Though I am sure that the Celtic tradition of a laden table was humour that if the sun did finally vanish over the horizon – never to return – at least they could go out on a high note.

Christmas, as the Christians observe, was the result of negotiation between the Pagans of Rome and the recently established Hierarchy. With Saturnalia sanitized Christianity spread north and assimilated the other traditions. What resulted is one of those times when souls are etched with the deepest memories and some of those are amongst the happiest we get to have. And while it is also the time when disparity is most obvious, along with alienation and aloneness; the amalgamated spirit of all of the fore-mentioned traditions has often inspired acts of kindness that are normally beyond us.

That is what I am talking about when I wish someone a ‘Merry Christmas’ and I am not offended when they respond with ‘Happy Holidays’, ‘Happy Hanukkah’, ‘Happy Kwanzaa’ or any other celebration of humanity. I am okay with it all because I am sure that each festival is as sacred, or cursed, as the other and I am sure there is an element in each that would encourage us to reach out and, for just a little while, all play nice together.

So, please, have a very happy Holiday Season no matter which foot, or hand, you kick with!