THERAPY HOUSE BY JULIE PARSONS

 
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A detective story with literary bite. “The Therapy House” offers, not escapism, but hard truths in fiction form.

What I like about the mystery/crime genre is its ability to morph its form, consistent in its compulsion, yet separate from any rules of genre. They can be supernatural, psychological, historical, speculative; the criminal mystery forms the through-line within it.

“The Therapy House” is a detective story. But through the eyes of the lead, former detective, Michael McLoughlin, we take a journey into the horrors of Ireland's past. An exploratory step backwards into the country's “glorious” revolution, and shine a light on those left behind in the wake of history.

Julie Parsons, has not, recently been a prolific writer. I would refer to her as a quality over quantity kind of author and though the early 2000s saw her release a number of titles, Therapy House is her first publication for 10 years. But it really was worth the wait (for those who had to wait).

The detective, Michael McLoughlin returns, now retired, his first appearance being in “Mary, Mary” back in 1998, and purchases a house next door to a supreme court judge, a judge who promptly finds himself not just murdered, but executed, just before Michael moves in. What follows is a slow paced mystery; as McLoughlin is slowly drawn into a grizzly investigation, No longer an officer, he is hired to uncover, and then possible bury, certain truths about the murdered judge. Whose sterling reputation may not be all its cracked up to be. But, this book is about more than a high profile murder.

The victims father was a “revolutionary hero” and the tale quickly begins to move backwards in time as we explore the Irish revolution through the eyes of a young serving girl, a protestant, who sees exactly what this “hero's” actions entail. Back in the present, she is an elderly woman, barely clinging to sanity. And there are too many people wanting to make sure that that McLoughlin's investigation is shut down.

Set during a heat wave, Parsons writing makes you feel every bead of sweat produced. Raising questions about the nature of heroes, and the meaning of being a public figure, as the heat grows more oppressive the narrative sinks deeper and deeper into a darkness that becomes a comment on Irish history as much a murder-mystery. Through the characters we see the full brunt of our institutions and our legacy, and not only asks was it all worth it? But also, did this even happen the way we believe it did?


Un-put-downable and deeply affecting, I found myself waking up with this book in my head. Dark, distressing and painfully honest. This isn't a novel for escapists. It is set firmly in our world. Our Ireland. And challenges you just to try and look at it the same way after you've finished reading.


 

THE COMPLETE WORKS OF J.M. SYNGE

 
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Whether you're dipping in and out, or reading straight through, there is always something to delight and entertain in the writings of John Millington Synge.

A collection of poetry, plays, and travel writing might seem like an odd book to grab off a shelf, but the content within is what makes reading the complete works so engaging. Synge may be still famous to this day for his play, “Playboy of the Western World”, and the ensuing controversy attached to it following it's première performances in the Abbey in 1913. and so, it is easy to forget the other amazing writing he did.

Stepping aside from his plays and poetry, may of which is stylised heavily, and spoken in colloquial Anglo-Irish. His travel writings is what most grabbed me. Recorded during his journeys through Wicklow, Conemara, Kerry, and the Aran Islands. What is captured within is a snapshot of Irish life and the turn of the century before everything changed.

His writings on Aran for example, are held to be the premium accounts of the island. Synge's work has the withdrawal of an outsider, and thus he is more keenly aware of the islanders tragic circumstances which they just take for par for the course. Beyond this, his writings on Kerry and Wicklow, serve to put into context the islanders struggles as well documenting some the now lost traditions of “Old Ireland”.

Also, within this book, is Synge's own journey. Beginning with his very first trip to Aran to study the Irish language we see how at first mistrusted he earns his place with the island communities. As the particular lack of judgement shown towards him of which ore recent work on the island (like Martin McDonagh's) shows the opposite. Indeed when reading not only Synge's non-fiction on Conemara and Aran, but also his plays, we see the full influence of his work on the more modern playwrights of our time. And it keenly noticed the huge influence he had on McDonagh, and later Kevin Barry in writing there major works set on Ireland's West Coast.

Synge, unknowingly at the time, has captured the West's old spirit, and his work is still used as a reference for many historians, most recently Dairmaid Ferriter in his “On the Edge.” I recommend this book for anyone with an interest in Ireland's cultural history, and his notes on the Irish language also prove for a fascinating read. On top of this, his plays, once thought to scandalous to perform can be re-examined, and when taking out the fear of the church that was so prevalent at the time, a real insight can be gained into how these people thought, and what they believed in.

At Playboy's first performance Synge was accused of capitalising on the “simpleness” of the Irish “peasant.” but in truth, looking back at his own work, and other histories, it is clear that he was dead on the nose, and further than that gave a voice for a people whom prominent nationalists took upon themselves to speak for, without actually getting to know them in truth. A great book to be re-examinted in the 21st century, and a crucial part of the cultural history of the island.

 

PRISONERS OF GEOGRAPHY BY TIM MARSHALL

 
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Much more than Current Affairs, but not quite a complete History, “Prisoners of Geography” is the place to begin your re-education of the world as we know it.

In a world where Current Affairs is the new Mass-Market Fiction, it can be hard to establish the facts from the fake news. When there are so many in depth analyses of every aspect of our world, sometimes a primer is the best way to educate yourself. That's what Prisoners of Geography is, it is a means to educate yourself. And one I strongly recommend everyone avail of.

Tim Marshall is an award winning foreign affairs and war correspondent. And such, much of his insight comes not just from thorough research, but from first hand experience. And while his writing does show a bias, it isn't to such a degree as to making the work unreliable, quite the opposite, his partial bias allows us more of a grasp into how things actually are.

Ostensibly this book is about Geography, specifically the geography of nations, and how this effects their foreign policy. But it is more than that. What this book attempts to do is allow you too see the world from the point of view of these nations. Marshall asks, what could be called an obvious question, if you were Russian, and your nation has been invaded countless times over a half a millennium, would you feel like an aggressive foreign policy was amiss? No you would not, it makes sense. And that's what is most interesting, and sometimes disturbing, about this book, is that so much of it just makes sense.

Divided into what the cover calls 12 maps, each analysis, of Europe, Russia, China (etc) provides a window—not into a world—from within that world; looking out. There is a sometimes an uncomfortableness with just how close you get to the truth. And constantly proposing the question, after the more you learn, how can you, without a doubt, state that you know what is right and wrong? Especially when its clear that we are just as wrong as we are right about the global affairs, and how geography effects them.

Told with a charming wit and style, the book is very accessible, as that is what it was designed to be. It is of no surprise to me that following the years after publication it has begun to show up on Secondary School (and higher) reading lists.

Perception changing, this is an invaluable source for someone looking to expand their knowledge of the world exponentially in just 300 pages. But beyond that it is laugh our loud enjoyable. And explained in a way, that makes it all so clear. Marshall is a man with a mission, a mission to show “the what and the why” behind the events we are living through; and this book is a great success along the path of that mission.

 

ANCIENT PATHS BY GRAHAM ROBB

 
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Prepare to have you perceptions changed, and the history of the Celtic world retold through the lens of a new interpretation.

With the advent of DNA technology and the re-examination of old evidence Celtic studies is a subject that is in a constant state of flux as old histories with a basis more in folk tales then archaeological evidence is challenged by new information; as well as, old information being looked at in new ways. Robb seeks to put his oar into this retelling in an account that will lead you turning the pages uttering, “it can't be…”

Graham Robb is a writer, historian, and cycling enthusiast. It was during with one of his long cycling holidays, one where he sought to journey along what is called the Heraclean Way (Via Heraklea), a straight line that runs from the Pillars of Hercules in the South of Spain, following the winter solstice line, (the direction the sun travels on the day of the winter solstice). While en route he noticed the same name showing up all over Western Europe. “Midi”, but what did this mean? Why were so many places marked with this term. So Robb took out a map and began taking note of all these mentions. The pattern which emerged before him was too complex to be believed. So unbelievable in fact that Robb didn't credit his own eyes, and so began an epic journey to prove his idea false, a journey that only proved to further confirm it.

But what is this theory? Essentially what is put forward is that the ancient Celtic druids built all their most important sites along converging lines, and that the science required to carry out this monumental task goes far beyond what we previously believed them capable of.

It has been known for a long time now, that ancient peoples where enamoured by the sun, stars, moon and the respective cycles of these bodies. But, the concept that all there major centres were all constructed, deliberately to match solstice lines, seems to far fetched to consider. But the evidence speaks for itself, and the “magic” of these places is revealed by the epic planing that would have had to be carried out to form these patterns.

With uncomfortable parallels drawn to “Ley Lines” (the occultist theory that there are invisible, mystical lines covering the globe) Robb was unsure whether his research would even be considered, hence he worked non-stop for years, and what he discovered is that all Celtic sites form a pattern, and that this pattern can be applied across Europe to offer insight into some of the major mysteries put forward not only by folk tales that have basis in reality, but also to verify the authenticity of classic accounts from ancient Greece and Rome.

Though written in a lighter tone than most historical books on this subject, Robb#s layman (excuse the pun) methodology allows for a more accessible text than had it been written by a hardcore ancient historian. Likewise he is not influenced by the prejudices that rear up when an academic who has dedicated their lives to a topic is asked to challenge their long hold beliefs based on new evidence.

This is a must have for anyone with more than a passing interest in the ancient world. As well as proving to be a great starter text for someone looking to be immersed in the history for the first time. Robb's book is a challenge. A challenge to academics who might believe that we've learned all we can about these ancient peoples and what they left behind. But also a challenge to every day people who would be shocked to learn that our barbaric, and “uneducated” ancestors might not have been as ignorant as we would like to believe.