HARVESTING BY LISA HARDING

 
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A novel which horrifies as it heartens, “Harvesting” is a crucial piece of meaningful fiction which tells the tale we would rather look away from.

In a world which seems not just fascinated, but obsessed, with the grotesque things which human beings do to one another, it seems strange to be recommending a book which shows just that. But “Harvesting” is so much more than an anxiety educing, outraging, account of the human trafficking and sex industries.

Lisa Harding is a former actor and her début novel evolved from a series of monologues she was asked to read that were written by women who had been trafficked into Ireland. as part of an awareness program. Thus began a journey for Harding as she sought to get to the depthsof these stories, and tell them.

“Harvesting” follows two girls as they make their drastically different journeys into the underground world of the Irish sex industry. Nico, (who is one of my new literary heroes) is from Moldova, in a world which bares a striking resemblance to Patrick Kavanagh's Tarry Flynn. Upon getting her first period and “reaching womanhood” she is set to marry, a dowry is received from a man 3 times her age. She is picked up, and taken away, never to see her family again. What her family don't know, or perhaps choose not to see, is that this is not an arranged marriage. This is a transaction, Nico has been sold, from one man (her father) to another. And this new one has plans for her. He is a human trafficker, and Nico is his newest acquisition.

Meanwhile, a thousand miles away in quiet South County Dublin, Sammy, a teenage tearaway is at her wits end with an abusive mother and an absentee father. Despite friends and people around her trying to steer her right, she resits at every turn, eventually deciding the only way to have power over her own life is to take that power to herself, and so she takes employment in a local brothel. But this does not give her the freedom she expects, as her choices are stripped from her and she is left trapped in a situation, which seems like there is no hope.

As we follow Nico across Europe and Sammy from bed to bed, we see the startling differences in their struggles, but the familiar sense that they are not in-charge of their own lives. They never were. Men have made their lives for them, and is in the hands of these men their future now rests. Unless they can claim back their lives for themselves.

Shocking, and poignant the book never lets up, and amazing prose carries you though, and will even have you laughing out loud as you, like for characters, laughter is the only desperate release from the horrors of the world around. A book which is full of the unexpected, Harding, keeps you on your toes while never keeping a tear fully from you eye. And important and engaging book. And part of a literary heritage of telling the stories of those who cannot tell it themselves.

 

THE YEAR OF DISAPPEARANCES BY GERARD MURPHY

 
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One of the darkest periods in Irish history is made that little darker by this appalling account intersecting the history of the Irish revolutionary period.

Since long before 2016 there has been a strong movement to portray the Irish struggle as a glorious revolution, a triumph of the oppressed. And while this is true, what cannot, and should not, be forgotten is the awful acts committed in the name of this freedom. Gerard Murphy's book shines a light on these acts. Demanding they be brought into the light and examined, because, without this, how can we move on as a society?

Gerard Murphy is from Cork, and holds a PhD from University College Cork and lectures at the Institute of Technology, Carlow. Murphy interest in this topic began when he was a child, hearing dark tales about Knockraha, and its surrounding areas. What these stories suggested was that an extremely sectarian wing of the Anti-Treaty IRA had been kidnapping, torturing, and executing local Protestants who they believed were involved in spying and other such “treasonous acts”. What began as a series of articles for the Irish Times quickly got a way from Murphy as the scope of his investigation expanded exponentially.

The more research he did, the mores names began to appear on the list of the dead, but while these names were there, their bodies were never found. So, he went back to the evidence, back to the first hand accounts. And being able to compare contemporary accounts from the IRA versus official government files that had been released in the century since, he saw one striking similarity. Only a very small percentage of these men/boys were actually spies. The rest don't appear on Government files at all.

So, why were these people killed? Where are their bodies? And who authorised such a shocking acts of murder which, in this day, would be heralded as war crime. What emerged was a tale of recrimination and retribution. At this time the British Army had been carrying out their own atrocities; murdering innocents Catholics they believed caught up in the national struggle. So the Anti-Treaty IRA, naturally enraged by these crimes, took it upon themselves to get their revenge.

Gerard Murphy does not have a complete picture, after so much time, and so much lying, a clear picture is impossible. But was clear is that these crimes happened. And nothing was ever done, nor will ever be done to bring the perpetrators to justice. This book is Murphy's attempt to do that in what little way he can.

Please read it, and acknowledge this history because it is the only way these countless under-age, and uninvolved boys will ever receive justice from a state which is happier to pretend like they never existed at all.

 

A BRILLIANT VOID BY JACK FENNELL

 
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This collection of resurrected short stories is a part of Ireland's literary culture, and reaffirms our place in the history of science fiction.

Jack Fennell clearly has a passion from the genre, and Irish fiction in general. His Masters in Comparative Literature and PhD in both Irish Literature and Science Fiction Studies is a testament to that. And thus, perhaps there are few better qualified to undertake this task.

While the stories might not be called “Sci-Fi” in the entirely modern sense of the word, they are not modern stories, they come from an era of science fiction where the “science” was just as improbable as in fantasy or horror genre. Nowadays we judge things by the context of what we are familiar with. The Jetsons thought that we would be in flying cars by this century. And even just half way through the last century American presidents were claiming we be living on the moon by now. So it is important to note that these stories are science fiction. They are what science fiction began life as, and their part in the heritage of the genre cannot be overlooked.

As with most stories collections there are some that will not be for everyone, but there is absolutely something for everyone in it. Ranging from complex ideas of time travel and precognition, to so called “mad scientist” narratives; the often Gothic stories entertain and delight while holding an odd sort of mirror up to where people 100 years ago believed we would be, and demonstrating the unpredictability of what the next 100 years of our time could evolve into. There is an amazing range to the works, and it demonstrates the powerful story telling ability which has blessed Irish literature for centuries and goes even reaches even further back.

Fennell begins by making intelligent parallels between the legacy of Irish myth and the science fiction genre, Which, once said, is hard to ignore while digesting the stories. There is a clear literary legacy, and the laying of the ground work for the direction the genre would eventually go in. With similar connotations as Lovecraft and Huxley; theses stories are an attempt to make sense of our world through the lens of the fantastical. (Particularly I was captivated by the idea, suggested in one story, that dreams exist outside of time, and therefore we dream of events that haven't happened yet, as dreams process our daily lives while we sleep).

We are lucky to have this collection presented so, and even luckier still that these stories have been saved from the clutches of time. Fennell proves wrong many falsehoods associated with the genre. The concept that the Irish don't write Sci-Fi or have no tradition of it is immediately quashed. But he goes further still, with a majority of the stories originating from female authors, proving wrong the common held believe that women don't write/read Sci-Fi, which is a gross misconception that Fennell happily dismantles.

Often entertaining and sometimes chilling, these storiese establish the Irish role on the origins of the genre, and secure another rung for our writers (past and present) on the ladder of literary history. Excellently chosen and well packaged, this book is great for hardcore readers of the genre and for newcomers dipping their toes in the ever growing pool of science fiction.

 

UTOPIA FOR REALSITS BY RUTGER BREGMAN

 
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Perhaps a bit too real for most realists, Rutger Bregman's daring stance on our possible future will leave you gagging for the world that could be.

One of my favourite kind of books is one that seeks to defy categorisation. Once that blend philosophy, history, current affairs, and others, into something powerful and meaningful. This is possible both within fiction and non-fiction. As there are plenty of books that blend both these categories as well, we know that this is hard to do right, and it takes both skill as a writer, and acute understanding of your subject matter to do it correctly. But, this is what Utopia for Realists does brilliantly, and with dash of Optimism as well.

Rutger Bregman has come to greater renown following a damning tongue lashing he gave the assembled philanthropists at the annual meeting of the Global Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. But his ideas are much older, though Bregman and those that agree with him are blessed with the hindsight of years and the data from past experiments to base their “new” theories.

In an often funny, and dramatical straight forward manner, Bregman lays out what the future of our planet could look like, if we just embraced the reality of our situation.

In Utopia for Realists, we learn the story of Basic Income (which I'll go into in a moment), but also discover so much more about working life, and the quality of the very lives we lead. As Bregman states fro the outset, we (in the majority of the western world) now live in a version of Utopia. Many of things out reach for ordinary people 150 years ago, are now, for the most part, widely available. Things like, medical care, free education that lasts through our entire childhood, and sometimes much longer, and access to huge varieties of food would make any person plucked out of time believe they had arrive in a promised land.

But this is not what this book is about, because Utopia is not a destination that you reach. A true Utopia is something always strived towards, an idea worth reaching, together. And that is what this book is about, the next step.

What is Basic Income? Bluntly put, for dramatic effect, its giving people free money. And when you read it first it sounds so ludicrous you keep reading largely to see just how mad this book is going to be, but then, its not mad. We're mad. Utterly. Because the facts, are right in front of our face. We just can';t believe the reality. Bregman separates out economics, current affairs, psychology, technology, and ecology, and then shows the lines that are drawn between them. Telling the story of how a 17th century idea, can work now more than ever.

A good non-fiction book can make you laugh, make you mad, shock you, and most importantly educate you. And this does all of these things among others it would just be gratuitous to list. It as enjoyable as it is accessible and I defy you to not become obsessed with.

In the end this is a Philosophy book, but in its essesnce it is a lesson in how to use our greatest capital. One that we squander so easily, and are perhaps most desperate never to squander: Time. And I'm glad I took the time to read it.