• May 18, 2012

These snapshots range from turf battles in the Irish underworld, to Hindu-Muslim religious and generational struggles, to Jeanette Winterson's witty and affecting memoir of her horrific childhood. Good reading all.

City of Bohane, Kevin Barry’s debut novel, “is a profane and hilarious story of turf battles and betrayal in the Irish underworld.” Halfway across the world in contemporary New Delhi, Alice Albinia’s fictional characters “face generational struggles, Hindu-Muslim intermarriage and conflicts between traditional Hinduism and secularism.” And Jeanette Winterson revisits the themes of her bestseller novel Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, recast this time as a memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal. Good reading all.


City of Bohane
Graywolf Press
by Kevin Barry
277 pp.

Set in a fictional metropolis of the not-too-distant future, Kevin Barry’s debut novel City of Bohane is a profane and hilarious story of turf battles and betrayal in the Irish underworld. The Hartnett Fancy, a gang as devoted to its powerful leader, Logan Hartnett, as it is to the world of high fashion, suffers dual threats: the plotting of the Cusack family, who are vengeful after the murder of one of their own, and the unexpected return after 25 years of Gant Broderick, Hartnett’s predecessor as both leader of the Fancy and lover of his wife, Macu. Hartnett’s attempts to retain power within the city, within his marriage and among his followers are recognizable to anyone familiar with The Godfather. What makes City of Bohane a worthy read is Barry’s language, which explodes with concussive originality. Its flash and power dazzle the senses, and in the raining shrapnel can be found traces of Anthony Burgess, Martin McDonagh and James Joyce.
~John Morogiello



Leela’s Book
by Alice Albinia
WW. Norton & Company
420 pp.

In contemporary New Delhi, Albinia’s characters face generational struggles, Hindu-Muslim intermarriage and conflicts between traditional Hinduism and secularism. A wedding brings two families and their servants together, leading to conflicts and revelations. Leela returns to Delhi from New York after many years, and the reader sees the city through her eyes: from the old wealth of Connaught Place to the Muslim quarter of Nizamuddin West, where young middle-class Hindu couples have also begun to settle; to the basti, which is apparently a lively slum; to the lowest of the low, where people live in tents pitched in a graveyard. The city is easier to grasp than the 14 main characters whose thoughts the reader enters. Albinia draws these characters well; the reader warms to them. But she moves them on and off stage so quickly that I wanted to say, “Wait. I don’t know Sunita well enough yet, and whose daughter is she?” The book begins with a debunking of Ganesh, the elephant-headed god, but Ganesh himself narrates two of the chapters and claims that he has caused all the action of the book. Albinia delves into many facets of Indian life, and steers the whole flotilla of characters to a successful ending.
~ Alice V. Leaderman


Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal
by Jeanette Winterson
Grove Press
240 pp.

This memoir bookends Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, the first novel and bestseller that brought its author acclaim in 1985. Revisited themes — now told as nonfiction — include the horrific abuse doled out by “Mrs. Winterson,” the adoptive mother and religious zealot who ceremoniously burned all of Jeanette’s books, frequently locked her out of doors or in the coal cellar, and turned her out when it was learned that she preferred women to men. Despite maltreatment and neglect, Winterson won a place at Oxford, and then penned more than 20 books. Years after Oranges was published, the author visited her estranged mother and told her she was happy; the book’s title repeats Mrs. Winterson’s memorable reply. Plagued by a lifelong inability to connect emotionally with others, Jeanette searches for her birth mother. In Why Be Happy, Winterson breaks down emotional walls and comes to term with who she is. She claims the now deceased Mrs. Winterson and as her own “monster.” Wittily and affectingly, Jeanette Winterson draws the reader into her lifelong efforts to come to terms with love.
~N. Schultheis

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